Inside the Capitol

Monday, August 22, 2005

8-29 Ailing GOP Seeks Medical Assistance

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- State Republicans aren't very challenging in 2006 gubernatorial and congressional races. They're looking to doctors for a cure, but the prognosis isn't good. Meanwhile they're throwing Democrats a scare in legislative races.
The Republican Party is having difficulty fielding a slate of challengers for top offices this time around. So far, Gov. Bill Richardson, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Rep. Tom Udall have little to worry about.
The boo birds already are out trying to lower Gov. Richardson's popularity. There will be national help for that effort just in case Richardson happens to end up with a top spot on the 2008 presidential ballot.
But the negativity won't do much, other than reduce turnout, if Republicans can't find a strong challenger. So far, disgruntled Democrats are the only takers.
Former state Rep. Bengie Regensburg of Mora County and 2004 congressional candidate Eli Chavez of Albuquerque both have bones to pick with the governor, but neither will even make it to the primary election ballot.
Former state Rep. John Sanchez, of Albuquerque, who was Richardson's opponent in 2002, isn't interested in getting beaten up again. The only hope for a challenger appears to be Dr. James Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist.
But the good doctor won't be ready to start his campaign for another month. Even though it is over a year until the general election, 13 months isn't much time to raise the money necessary to counter a Richardson war chest estimated to top out at well over $7 million.
Damron is willing to spend some of his own money, but may not have the bucks to finance most of his campaign as did Gary Johnson, the last successful Republican contender. And 12 years ago, that required only a little over $1 million.
In this race, Damron will need that much just to get started with a staff and ad campaign necessary to raise his sub-one percent name recognition.
With so little party confidence about beating Richardson, Damron may not draw any primary election opposition. If that happens, the doctor can be declared politically dead before he even gets started.
In 1986, with Democrats down in the dumps after four years of Toney Anaya, Ray Powell, Sr. was the only Democrat gubernatorial candidate. Garrey Carruthers, another political unknown, started early and had several strong primary opponents.
While Carruthers was getting free front-page publicity, Powell remained unknown. It gave Carruthers almost a year's head start. A free ride in the primary may be easier and less expensive but it's not how an unknown wins a statewide race.
Incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman has drawn no Democrat challengers and only token opposition from Republicans. Perennial candidate Tom Benavides, who has experimented with every party on the ballot, has filed as a Republican against Bingaman.
That, by itself should get Republicans beating the bushes for another candidate. Steve Pfeffer, a pony tailed Santa Fe Democrat-turned-Republican, says he might be interested, but the GOP may not be that interested in him.
Their best bet is Farmington urologist Allen McCulloch, who says he is thinking seriously about a run and will render an opinion next month. That would make two doctors stepping in to revive an ailing party.
But, like typical doctors, they're keeping their party twiddling its thumbs in the waiting room.
There is no talk of challenging Democrat Tom Udall in the northern congressional district. Why bother. It wastes precious resources on a lost cause. Democrats might be wise to consider that in the other two congressional districts, but they'll charge into battle anyway.
In the state house, Republicans might have a shot at a serious comeback. Blogger Joe Monahan reports that the expected retirements of Democrats Don Whitaker of Eunice, Fred Luna of Los Lunas, Joe Stell of Carlsbad and Al Park of Albuquerque could put Republicans in all those seats.
MON, 8-29-05

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



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