Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3-24 Pete in '08

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We interrupt the 2006 election campaign to bring you this special announcement. Sen. Pete Domenici is cranking up his 2008 re-election campaign.
So what's the big hurry? Well, who doesn't doubt that Gov. Bill Richardson has been running his 2008 presidential campaign for some time. And Republican presidential wannabes already have conducted a straw poll.
Pete's now 73 and moving a little more slowly, so maybe he needs a head start. But let's give him a chance to tell us himself.
In a fundraising letter dated March 3, Domenici says, "I realize it may seem early to raise money for re-election�but due to the high cost of television advertising, it is more challenging than ever to collect the funds I need to run the positive, issue-oriented campaigns that are my hallmark."
In other words, don't spend all your money on the 2006 races, folks. Kick in a few hundred bucks to my campaign now, please.
Actually Pete, if you'd spend your money on newspaper advertising, you wouldn't have to raise so much and you'd reach the people who actually vote.
Pete also says he fully expects his "opponents will run a negative campaign against the values we hold so dear." Well maybe, Pete. But when was the last time you had to break a sweat to beat anyone your opponents put up against you? It was in 1978, when Toney Anaya gave you your last good challenge.
Pete and I talked about his future political plans not long after he won his last election in 2002. Sen. Strom Thurmond had just retired at 100 and I asked Pete if he had any plans to go for a new record. He chuckled and said he thought he might stop a little before then.
Fritz Hollings, South Carolina's other senator, also had just retired, at 80, after 36 years in the Senate without ever becoming the state's senior senator. The same sort of thing could happen to Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico's junior senator. But I doubt he's worrying too much about it.
People have been predicting for years that health problems would force Domenici out anytime. A lung problem 20 years ago set him back, but surgery and quitting smoking seem to have cured that. The only health reports we hear now relate to the creaking bones of old age and that's not fatal.
Blogger Joe Monahan suggests that Domenici is just trying to scare out any competition that might be thinking he won't run. Could be. But there's also a possibility it might go deeper.
Domenici has been the mentor for Rep. Heather Wilson since she first entered politics. When the GOP convention gave her second spot on the 1st Congressional District primary election ballot in 1998, Domenici stepped in to give her the boost necessary to win that primary.
Since then, it has been speculated that Pete would do what he could to help his prot�g� succeed him. One way to accomplish that would be to scare out the competition and then make a last-minute withdrawal from the race, just in time for Wilson to sneak in unopposed.
But who would ever be that sly? Well, it happened when Rep. Manuel Lujan retired from Congress in 1988. He'd given no sign that he was considering stepping down, when just after the first of the year, he announced he was leaving office, followed by an announcement from his brother, Ed Lujan, that he was running.
Little time was left for other hopefuls to gather petitions, but District Attorney Schiff got under the wire and won the primary election.
Lujan and Domenici are good friends and the conversation must have arisen at some time. At his victory party in 2002, Domenici gave indications it would be his last election.
So the possibility exists that Domenici could step aside at the last minute. But don't think that other hopefuls haven't thought of that.
And one might even be Bill Richardson.
FRI, 3-24-06

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



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