For Menendez, the philosophy for doing this might be defined as a "top down" approach, as he positions himself more firmly in the power elite of government. This philosophy, according to his campaign staff, has been instrumental in providing Hudson County with federal dollars for everything from light rail to affordable housing.
Although de Leon never denies her core beliefs, some of which match up with the national Republican agenda, she says the campaign is not about ideology, but how to make certain that federal dollars manage to make their way through the maze of business and governmental interests in Hudson County to reach the people in need of services.
The 13th district is one of the more bizarre districts in the state, encompassing part of Newark in Essex County, a majority of Hudson County - excluding part of Jersey City, part of Kearny, part of North Bergen and all of Secaucus. The district also includes sections of Middlesex County and Union County, stretching from the tip of North Bergen in the north to the tip of Perth Amboy in the south.
The 13th district is predominantly Democratic. It is also 41 percent Latino, which includes people from various parts of Central and South America, many of whom arrived in the area as a result of the loosening of immigration restrictions in 1965. According to the League of Women Voters, Menendez, who is Cuban, had a significant boost to Congress when the 13th district was formed in 1992. The Congress, seeking to create the nation's first Latino district, shaped the 13th district to incorporate this population. Although primarily Democratic, the 13th district has pockets of Republican voters among the Cuban population in Union City, North Bergen, Guttenberg and West New York, where they have voted Republican for president in past elections.
De Leon and Menendez have clashed before, in 1996 and 1998. In 1998, Menendez trounced de Leon, taking 83 percent of the vote. De Leon, in an interview last week, admitted she has an uphill battle to unseat an incumbent congressman in a county that is predominantly Democratic. She is counting on numerous factors to help her bring in the vote: political bickering between Democrats in Union City where Menendez helped force out Mayor Rudy Garcia, as well as a possible victory by Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and the presidency.
"It is always tough," de Leon said. "I'm very busy, running here and there, trying to see as many people as I can." De Leon defines her campaign as a campaign of the street, and one that relies on her ability to reach as many people as possible.
"Bob Menendez has the benefit the Democratic organization as well as the incumbency, and he has much more money than I have," de Leon said.
Many more people are undecided this year and claiming no affiliation with either major political party.
"People can cross party lines when they want to. It is important to run on the issues," she said.
Menendez was first in nearly everything
At 45 years of age, Menendez has been the first Latino to serve in numerous public offices on the municipal, state, and federal level.
Menendez was born in New York City and attended Union Hill High School, from which he graduated in 1972. He received his bachelor's degree from St. Peter's College and his law degree from Rutgers University.
He won his first election in 1974, when at the age of 20 he was elected to the school board in Union City. At the time, he was the first Latino ever to accomplish this. In 1986, he became mayor of Union City, a post he held until 1992.
From 1987 to 1991, he also served in the New Jersey Assembly, then from 1991 to 1992 in the New Jersey Senate - the first Latino to serve in either capacity.
He is serving his fourth term as the representative for New Jersey's 13th Congressional district and he serves as Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, a position rated as the 4th most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives. He is the first New Jersey congressman to serve that post and the first Latino to reach a leadership position in the House of Representatives. Menendez, according to his staff members, has managed to use his various positions within Congress to bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the county. He currently sits on two extremely influential congressional committees: the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House International Relations Committee. He is the ranking Democratic Member of the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade and has been credited for achieving trade agreements that benefited workers and businesses throughout New Jersey.
Menendez has been honored for his work in human rights and has been credited with bringing as many as 800 new police officers to Hudson County as part of the Community Oriented Police Services Program (COPS Fast).
His record, according to his staff, shows that he has also helped to provide money for demolishing and rebuilding public housing and that he was instrumental in getting millions on Welfare-to-work programs as well as hiring teachers and revitalizing former industrial sites.
Menendez's staff said his priorities in his next term will be health care, transportation and affordable housing.
De Leon is not a typical Republican
De Leon, 42, was born in Brooklyn and is the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. She currently serves as chief financial officer for the Legal Aid Society in New York. She has previously been controller for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and before that served as vice president to Bankers Trust Company and vice president and chief financial officer for West State Empire Group.
She has a bachelor's degree in Economics from Yale University, a master's degree from New York University and a law degree from New York Law School. She has been a Jersey City resident for about 16 years and has served as a Hudson County Republican chairwoman, as well as other civic and business positions. Oddly enough, Democrat David Dinkins honored this Hudson County Republican when he was still mayor of New York for her work with the legal aid society in New York.
While her conservative positions on some issues have won her the support of the U.S. Taxpayer's Union, a citizen's advocacy group that urges a reduction in the tax burden, her campaign is based more on what people call "bread and butter issues," those quality of life issues such as education, housing, transportation and employment.
DeLeon said she is seeking to make services such as health care affordable to many of the poorer people in the 13th district. She said many people have not felt the benefits of the booming economy, despite the waterfront development boom.
Affordable housing stock, she said, seems to be shrinking.
Education has been the cornerstone of her campaign, noting that when the public education system works, it can provide quality education. She said hard working teachers and others can deliver education equal to anywhere else, but often not every school operates as well as it should. She seeks to create a system that would restore parental control over education and to create a system of incentives that would acknowledge and reward dedicated teachers.