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Lantos Passes Away At 80

Long-time Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, died this morning at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland, the Associated Press reports. He was 80 years old.

Born in Budapest, Lantos was one of those protected by Raoul Wallenberg before landing in the United States. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Lantos taught in a San Francisco university before winning election to Congress in 1980. A foreign policy expert, Lantos took over chairing the House Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats took charge this year.

Earlier this year, Lantos announced he had cancer of the esophagus and that he would not seek re-election. Known for his dedication to human rights -- he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983 -- Lantos never lost his thick Hungarian accent and the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He is survived by his wife, his two daughters and their 18 grandchildren.

Once a divided district, Lantos' 12th Congressional District, which includes the Southwest tip of San Francisco and several suburbs along the coast, is now safely Democratic. John Kerry won by 45 points in 2004, while Al Gore carried the district by 38 in 2000. After winning his first term by a narrow margin, Lantos did not face serious opposition through the rest of his career.

Lantos' reitirement announcement prompted former State Senator Jackie Speier to begin making serious moves toward a campaign, though it appeared she had planned to challenge Lantos in a primary. State Senator Leland Yee had also reportedly been considering a bid, though no announcement has been forthcoming. The winner of the district's June 3 Democratic primary is likely to win the general election easily.