( AP ) - The Spanish government Monday called general elections for March 9, launching what is shaping up as a close race between Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez's ruling Socialists and opposition conservatives.
Zapatero is seeking a second term after being elected in March 2004 elections that ousted a conservative government devastated by the Madrid terror bombings by Muslim extremists. The attack killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.
Most polls show the Socialists with a slight lead over the conservative Popular Party, but statistically the parties are in a virtual dead heat.
The conservatives are hammering away at Zapatero's failed effort to negotiate peace with the Basque rebel group ETA, which declared a cease-fire in 2006 only to revert to violence last year after failing to win concessions in talks with the government.
The conservatives are promising tax cuts for businesses and low-income workers, while the government is pledging to create 1.6 million new jobs if re-elected and has already launched a program to provide financial aid to young workers and low-earning families to help them pay their rent.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Zapatero gave his government a glowing review on the state of the economy, social legislation such as legalization of gay marriage and other achievements. He said he will ask voters for another term.
"We have a great country. We are a great country. We deserve the best of futures and we are prepared for it," Zapatero said.