6-26 Dendahl In For Damron
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Halleluiah. New Mexico has a race for governor. A few weeks ago, this column suggested invoking the 10-run mercy rule used in amateur baseball and call off the race.
Republican gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron's campaign was dead in the water. His campaign manager quit in April and was never replaced. The last campaign finance report showed Gov. Bill Richardson with $5.7 million in the bank and Damron with $43,000. That didn't include a reported $120,000 the campaign was in debt.
A few days later, I received a news release saying "Damron Quits." But it was his radiology practice he was quitting, temporarily. The move was to late, however. Nothing could be done to revive the patient.
Mercifully, it ended last Friday. The Republican state central committee already had a meeting scheduled for Saturday to replace the GOP state auditor candidate. Dr. Damron agreed that it was time he be replaced too.
John Dendahl is exactly what the state Republican Party needs at this point to inject some life back into the party. He is energetic, articulate and totally dedicated to the mission at hand. He knows the party inside and out, having ably served as its chairman for eight years.
The party faithful now have a firebrand to rally behind. They know he'll be on the trail every day preaching their message, and most of all, challenging his opponent at every step.
Candidates in down-ballot races will get a boost of energy and morale and the national GOP now has a candidate who can soften up a possible presidential contender.
That's the upside. Dendahl isn't much more likely to be elected governor than he is to become pope. He will turn the campaign highly negative. And he will alienate a number of members of his own party.
But for now, he's saving his party from embarrassment, bringing a spark to the 2006 elections and providing those of us in the political commentary business a better Fathers Day present than we ever could have imagined.
One of the first criticisms of Dendahl by Democrat leaders was that he is far too conservative. They're going to have to come up with something better than that to stick on a guy with Dendahl's libertarian leanings. His biggest problems as state GOP chairman were from the conservative wing of his party.
By far the worst trouble Dendahl got in while state party chairman was for his strong support of then-Gov. Gary Johnson's drug legalization proposals. Dendahl promised party leaders that he will leave that plank out of his campaign platform.
Speaking to the subject, Dendahl said he would not have the luxury of pioneering new policies because he'll be too focused on pointing out flaws in Richardson's policies.
And there we see the strong signal of a coming super-negative campaign. Expect state Republicans to mirror national Democrats in attacking the chief executive without proposing any solutions themselves.
Dendahl may be leaving drugs out of this campaign, but you can bet Richardson won't. The governor's initial statement immediately after learning of the GOP action: "We welcome the opportunity to hear John Dendahl explain his pro-drug legalization plan throughout the campaign."
Don't expect to hear many new ideas about how to improve New Mexico advanced during this campaign. It's going to be dirty and nasty. And before you let that turn you off, remember that experience shows negative campaigning works. Someone must like this stuff.
GOP leaders' first criticism of Gov. Richardson following their meeting was that New Mexicans shouldn't vote for a candidate who wants to run for president in two years.
They're going to have to do better than that. And they will.
Several presidential hopefuls, Republican and Democrat, are running to retain their present positions this year. In fact, our current president did the same thing as governor of Texas eight years ago.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org