Inside the Capitol

Monday, March 13, 2006

NM Congressional Race Draws National Attention

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico will have only two exciting general election races at the state and federal levels this November.
One will be the contest for state land commissioner between incumbent Republican Patrick Lyons and one of two Democrats, both of whom are former land commissioners.
The other will be the 1st Congressional District face off between incumbent Republican Heather Wilson and current Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat.
The congressional contest won't be a statewide race but it will be of interest to all New Mexicans who follow politics. And it will be closely watched nationally.
Wilson and Madrid both are very strong candidates. They are intelligent, well-educated, articulate women with strong records of public service. And they are in a congressional district notorious for splitting its ballot.
Neither party can claim to own Albuquerque. Its moderate and independent voters back the individual rather than the party, perhaps more than any area of the country.
Toss in a liberal north and a conservative south and the entire state also is a mystery to national political experts. We've never received the recognition we should for being the best predictor of presidential elections in the nation..
Of course, if most people understood that New Mexico is a state, we'd get more recognition.
Now, at least, the 1st Congressional District is receiving some out-of-state attention. Blogger Joe Monahan reports that the Los Angeles Times, one of the nation's largest newspapers, has chosen the 1st Congressional District as the possible key to the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A lengthy article by Mark Barabak in the March 4 edition describes the "politically confounding" district and what the two candidates are doing to win it.
The most notable move, thus far, has been Wilson's split with President George Bush and fellow Republicans on several recent occasions.
Wilson received national attention when she broke ranks and called for an investigation of the administration's domestic surveillance program. Wilson heads the House subcommittee that overseas the National Security Agency, so her remarks reverberated throughout Washington and the nation.
Wilson blasted administration refusals to provide her subcommittee with briefings on National Security Agency operations.
Suddenly the administration changed course and provided a closed-door briefing to Wilson and her subcommittee. But Wilson still expressed serious concerns and questions about the program.
Wilson's break with the administration is sure to help in her district where she has been called a rubber stamp for the Bush-Cheney administration. And it may not hurt her too much with GOP leaders, who know she needs political cover in an unpredictable district.
But her break is noticed by the conservative press. A Wall Street Journal columnist observed that local Albuquerque politics is now setting national security policy
The allusion to local Albuquerque politics is what the Wilson-Madrid contest is all about. If Wilson can keep the focus locally, she'll remain undefeated. If Madrid and Democrat leaders can shift that focus to national politics, Wilson could go down.
With Republican congressional scandals and plummeting popularity ratings of the president and vice president, Democrats are hoping for a major turnaround in this year's midterm congressional elections just as Democrats experienced in 1994, when both houses of Congress abruptly went Republican.
So we're almost sure to see Madrid running against Republicans in Washington and Wilson trying to keep the focus on local issues and on what she has done in Washington.
It will be a classic struggle, with both national parties throwing money and staff into the race.
WED, 3-22-06

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



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