WASHINGTON - Both political parties are gearing up for the November election, with the White House and U.S. Senate considered to be the major battlegrounds. Key Senate races this year include: Alaska -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R); Colorado -- open seat; Florida -- open seat; Illinois -- open seat; Louisiana -- open seat; North Carolina -- open seat; Oklahoma -- open seat; Pennsylvania -- Sen. Arlan Spector (R); South Carolina -- open seat; and South Dakota -- Sen. Tom Daschle (D).

But with Congress essentially shackled by a 50-50 party split, the contest for the White House is the most anticipated prize in November, says Chandler Keys, vice president of government affairs and the chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, D.C.

"Power always travels to where it meets the least resistance. With control of Congress virtually split, which party wins the White House will really be important this year," he tells BEEF magazine.

Keys says the Bush Administration has been "very positive" toward the cattle and beef industry.

"We have had a lot of contact with the Bush White House, and we share a lot of similar philosophies about markets, demand and the global marketplace. We've gotten along well with them in collaborating to make sure the BSE incident was handled in a way that wasn't hysterical but science and risk based," Keys says.

Such collaboration also paid dividends in food safety, he adds, where the industry recorded huge progress toward reducing the incidence of E. coli 0157:H7 and other pathogens.

"We have continued to work together in implementing and fine tuning programs like the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HAACP) program," Keys says. "We've cooperated to ensure the program is effective at addressing the critical food safety control points and not used for political control points."

Keys chalks up other significant progress under the Bush Administration in federal lands and private lands. And, with the help of committee chairmen assignments in Congress, Keys says NCBA was successful in garnering a two-year delay in implementation of the country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) law.

"If we hadn't achieved that delay until September 2006, the industry would have to be preparing for that right now, on top of everything else," he says.

Keys sums up the political situation this way: "At the end of the day, what the industry wants is strong beef demand, a cooperative government, and profitability in the industry. That's what we have now but it takes diligence and fortitude to maintain that."

A total of eight senators and 29 congressmen, who are either retiring or running for another office, leave a total of 37 seats up for grabs in 2004. But, Keys says one of the most-watched races will be Daschle's reelection race in South Dakota where the senate minority leader is locked in a tough race against former U.S. Rep. John Thune, a Republican.

"Daschle is a very powerful figure on the political scene, and he has a more populist view of American agriculture. He's a big proponent of COOL and has come out in favor of 100 percent testing of cattle for BSE. It's likely that if John Kerry is elected president that Daschle would be a key advisor on agricultural matters to him," Keys says.

Joe Roybal is editor ofBEEF magazine, a sister publication to Delta Farm Press.

e-mail: jroybal@primediabusiness.com