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A dose of diversity in freshman class could alter Congress

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Mr. Salazar grew up on a ranch in Colorado that has been in his family since 1850. A fiscal conservative, Salazar backs tougher border controls, conservation, and renewable energy. He and Martinez will be the first Hispanics to serve in the Senate from a state other than New Mexico. His brother, John Salazar, joins the US House as a new member from western Colorado.

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As usual, the diversity is even more striking in the House. Incoming Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana will be only the second Indian-American (as in India) member of Congress. A policy prodigy, Mr. Jindal was running Louisiana's health and hospitals agency in his 20s. At 28, he was president of the University of Louisiana, then was appointed by Mr. Bush to be assistant secretary of Health and Human Services in 2001. In 2002, he narrowly missed being elected governor in his first bid for public office.

Breaking the gender barrier

Also, with eight women in the freshman class, the number of women serving in the House has hit 68 for first time in history. Many are coming in with their own passions and pet issues. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida helped pass a law requiring insurers to cover longer hospital stays for new mothers. She is herself the mother of twin toddlers and an infant. Allyson Schwartz fought through a tough Democratic primary in the Philadelphia suburbs on the strength of her work in the state Senate expanding health care coverage for children.

Several women in the freshman class also know what it's like to work up through poverty. GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) of North Carolina says she didn't have electricity in her home until she was 14. Democrat Gwen Moore started college as an expectant mother who needed welfare to complete her education. As a VISTA volunteer, she helped start a credit union in her Milwaukee neighborhood before election to the state House in 1989 and Senate in 1992. To the surprise of analysts, she handily defeated the state Democratic party chair with 64 percent of the vote. She will be the first black member of the Wisconsin delegation.

"These are not women who waited their turn; they made their term," says Ramona Oliver of Emily's List, which backs women who support abortion rights. "This year's freshmen class of women in the House [includes] some of the best qualified, strongest candidates with some of the strongest credentials that you've seen."

Still, for many incoming freshmen, family ties count. In Missouri, Russ Carnahan's family name helped him win a crowded Democratic primary. His father, Mel Carnahan, a former governor, was elected to the Senate posthumously. His mother, Jean, served in his place until defeated in 2002. Rep. Dan Boren (D) of Oklahoma will be the third generation of his family to serve in the Congress. In Florida, Republican Connie Mack IV takes over the seat once held by his father.

And, in the most striking example of family influence in the 2004 cycle, Dan Lipinski, who has never run for office, was appointed to replace his father, who retired after winning the Illinois Democratic primary. The three returning former members are Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D) of Georgia, Bob Inglis (R) of South Carolina, and Dan Lungren (R) of California.