Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Wilson Wins Again in CD 1

SANTA FE – For all that Democrats invested trying to beat U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson in the 1st Congressional District, the results remained strikingly the same.
State Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero again was the Democratic nominee. Two years ago, Romero also took on Wilson. He said he learned a great deal from that challenge, but said he hadn’t had sufficient time to raise the necessary money and mount the campaign necessary to win, while also fulfilling his Senate duties.
So Romero resigned from the Senate to devote full time to organizing a winning campaign and raising the necessary money. Gov. Bill Richardson, who had received considerable help from Romero while he was Senate leader, did his best to muscle other aspiring Democrat challengers out of the race.
The governor also gave Romero significant assistance from his Moving America Forward Political Action Committee. National Democrat organizations also stepped in with support, believing that Rep. Wilson could be beaten.
Romero’s campaign succeeded in raising a significant amount of money. His television ads were as vicious as Wilson’s. Sen. Kerry carried the congressional district at the top of the ballot. But Romero again was close to a 10-point loser.
Democrats are finding it difficult to accept, but Wilson is coming across as invincible, just as her predecessors, Steve Schiff and Manuel Lujan were. Democrats have never won the mostly-Albuquerque district since its creation in 1982.
The loss was costly to Romero, who gave up his Senate leadership position. That post was gained through a coalition with all Republican Senate members. But being able to claim an ability to work with Republican senators didn’t gain Romero many GOP votes in this election. And it hurt him with some Democrats who stayed home for the election.
That lack of enthusiasm was especially noticeable in the Albuquerque area’s South Valley, where the feelings ran to downright hostile, because Romero had ousted the King of the South Valley Manny Aragon for the top Senate post.
But even with strong South Valley Democrat backing, Romero still would have lost. The district should be a toss up, but with a strong candidate, the GOP has successfully won and defended that seat for 12 straight elections.
At their pre-primary nominating convention in 1996, Republicans put then-state Sen. Bill Davis at the top of the GOP ballot, when Rep. Steve Schiff stepped down for health reasons. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici then stepped in and flexed all his political muscle to see that Wilson, who had finished second in the convention balloting, became the Republican nominee.
Perhaps Domenici sensed that the volatile Davis might not be able to continue Republican dominance of that district. Wilson had good credentials and has become a favorite of the House Republican leadership, putting her in position to gain power in that body.
Gov. Richardson’s backing of Romero for the congressional post, and Romero’s subsequent loss, also was costly to the governor. Joe Monahan reports in his blog that Eli Chavez, a South Valley Democrat is hopping mad at Richardson.
Chavez was the choice of Manny Aragon supporters to challenge Wilson in this election, but Richardson let it be known that Romero was his man. Chavez has gone public, calling Richardson “El Patron,” a title reminiscent of the day when patrons, such as Rio Arriba’s Emilio Naranjo ruled northern New Mexico.
Chavez has helped found a new organization called the United Democrats of New Mexico, with the goal of recruiting 60,000 Democrats. Its mission is to take back the Democratic Party from El Patron before the next election.
Time will tell how successful the Chavez effort will be. But it is highly likely that Richardson’s political losses in this election will embolden his opposition, both Republican and Democrat, in the 2005 Legislature. Expect a much more contentious session next year.


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