AP National Writer
---- — NEW YORK (AP) — Of the four openly gay members of Congress, the two longest-serving stalwarts are vacating their seats. Instead of fretting, their activist admirers are excited about a record number of gays vying to win seats in the next Congress — and to make history in the process. When the oaths of office are taken in January, Congress could have its first openly gay Asian-American, Mark Takano of California; its first openly bisexual member, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; and its first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. In all, eight openly gay candidates are running as major-party nominees for the House of Representatives, the most ever, including the two incumbents who are favored in their races — Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island. There's one gay Republican in the group, Richard Tisei, who is waging a competitive campaign for a House seat from Massachusetts. A common denominator in all the races: Neither the gay candidates nor their rivals are stressing sexual orientation, and the oft-heard refrain is, "It's not an issue." If anti-gay innuendo does surface from lower echelons of a campaign, there are swift disavowals — even conservative candidates these days think twice about being depicted as biased against gays and lesbians. "People know that bigotry is bad politics," said Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is trying to oust one-term Republican Nan Hayworth from New York's 18th District in the Hudson Valley. Maloney, who'd be the first openly gay member of Congress from New York, has assailed Hayworth for not supporting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, but says voters are focused on economic and health care issues, not on gay rights. The veterans departing from the House are Barney Frank, D-Mass., perhaps the most powerful gay in elective office who is retiring after 16 terms, and Baldwin, who is vacating her House seat after seven terms to run for the Senate. Recent polls show her running slightly ahead of her GOP opponent, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.