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Native Americans Gaining New Electoral Ambitions

FOUR native Americans - the largest number ever - sought seats in the United States Congress this year.

Two were defeated in primaries in Alaska and Oklahoma.

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That leaves Ada Deer, a Democrat, hoping to gain a House position in Wisconsin, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D) of Colorado. Representative Campbell has served in the House since 1986 and is making a bid for the Senate. Besides Campbell, only one American Indian has been in Congress: Ben Reifel, a Republican from South Dakota. He was in the House from 1961-71.

About 30 native Americans serve on state legislatures, according to Judy Zelio, who staffs the state tribal relations task force of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. Although that number has remained fairly static for the past few years, "there is a growing movement among native Americans to involve more in state legislatures," Ms. Zelio says.

Over the last five years, more native Americans have been elected to leadership positions on city councils and state offices, says LaDonna Harris, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. "We're realizing our economic and political clout for the first time in a different way than we have in the past."

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