Inside the Capitol

Monday, May 23, 2005

5-30 They're Off and Running

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � With summer drawing near, it is time for statewide candidates to make up their minds about whether they will jump into the fight.
Relax, negative campaigning isn't about to hit the airwaves anytime soon. You still have a breather there. But this is when candidates must begin their maneuvering.
Many already are hiring campaign staffs, recruiting volunteers, seeking endorsements and looking for some big initial donors. Those candidates who tarry will soon begin running into old friends who say they wish they'd known, but they've already committed to another candidate.
An early start is more important for Democrats in this state than for Republicans. Democrat primaries usually are crowded. Republicans often have no opposition except in the gubernatorial race. Here are some of the rumblings we've heard so far.
For governor, Bill Richardson has not drawn much opposition. Former state Rep. Bengie Regensberg gave the governor some headaches in the Legislature until he was defeated for his seat last year.
The Mora rancher and building contractor is considering giving Richardson another pain by challenging him in the Democratic primary.
Republicans are having problems coming up with a candidate, which is causing some sniping at state GOP Chairman Allen Weh, who hasn't done much of a job recruiting candidates for major offices yet.
The lieutenant governor race also is vacant on the Republican side. Current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is the presumed candidate to run on the Richardson ticket again.
But Capitol observers keep watching Attorney General Patricia Madrid for signals that she might decide to give Denish another challenge. The two have tangled before and both would love to be New Mexico's first female governor.
For now, Madrid is tight-lipped, but is busily raising money for her next campaign. She has put in her maximum two consecutive terms as attorney general, so is precluded from that race.
The contest Democrat officials want to see Madrid enter is for Rep. Heather Wilson's 1st Congressional District seat. Democrats have continued to throw strong candidates into Wilson's race, but so far, haven't come close to unseating her. Madrid may be looking at those results and thinking that a race against Denish might be easier to win.
For the U.S. Senate, the GOP keeps saying it has evidence that Democrat Jeff Bingaman may be vulnerable in his reelection bid next year. But that's what Democrats keep saying about Heather Wilson, and both keep winning by comfortable margins.
So far, the only Republican challengers being mentioned are former Democrat state Sen. Tom Benavides and Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer, who also just switched parties.
The attorney general's race is attracting much interest. Rep. Al Park, an Albuquerque attorney, has his campaign going strong. Former Rep. Gary King has expressed interest. King has run both for governor and Rep. Steve Pearce's 2nd Congressional District seat.
Geno Zamora, a former attorney for Gov. Bill Richardson, is said to be interested, as is State Democrat Party chairman John Wertheim. Wertheim would have to give up his party post in order to run. State Rep. Joseph Cervantes has been mentioned but the Las Cruces attorney says he's not interested.
On the Republican side, Bob Schwartz says he'll run. The former two-term Bernalillo County district attorney serves as Gov. Bill Richardson's crime policy adviser and may have some questions to answer about that relationship. Schwartz, also, is a former Democrat.
Coming up before all these party primaries is the Albuquerque mayor's race this October. As usual it promises to be a barnburner. The sparks won't fly quite as high since the mayor's former wife Margaret has quit flirting with a challenge of her ex-husband. But she'll still give him plenty of trouble.
This is another race in which Republicans want a candidate, but the GOP leadership hasn't been able to deliver.
MON, 5-30-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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