Inside the Capitol

Monday, June 19, 2006

6-28 Dendahl a Sacrificial Wolf?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Will John Dendahl be a uniter for the New Mexico Republican Party? That's the way it is being played.
State GOP Chairman Allen Weh proclaimed at the end of the meeting that selected Dendahl to replace Dr. J.R. Damron that the party is now "very, very united."
Obviously the state central committee members who were present at the meeting were relieved that the party had a candidate to replace Damron, who had resigned the day before. Not only that, they had a scrappy candidate willing to take on Gov. Bill Richardson at every opportunity.
But less than a third of 350 or so members of the state committee were present. Most were the strongest of the party faithful who showed up for a meeting called only to select a new candidate for state auditor.
If everyone had shown, would Dendahl have received the unanimous and rousing selection party leaders claimed took place behind closed doors?
There still are wounds among GOP state central committee members from the bruising battles in which Dendahl was defeated for state party chairman three years ago by state Sen. Ramsay Gorham.
Those wounds were deepened a year later when Dendahl's faction of the party ousted Gorham. That faction also recruited primary election opposition for incumbent Republican legislators who didn't vote the party line often enough.
Might Dendahl's choice reopen those wounds? Dendahl is smart. He's also a competitor, having made the U.S. Olympic ski team in 1960. Expect to see him make an effort to unite the party
Essentially Dendahl has continued as the public voice of the state GOP, despite his ouster. He knows how to get on the front page of the paper.
He's also been on the editorial page of some papers the past year or so, with columns primarily attacking the Richardson administration. Those columns now will have to be discontinued, but they made Dendahl a familiar face to many New Mexicans.
Those columns also could get Dendahl into some campaign trouble. Although he worked hard to attract Hispanics into the Republican Party during his terms as state chairman, his recent columns on immigration have had enough of an English-Only message to them that Democrats may use them to convince Hispanics he's out to destroy their culture.
That's not the John Dendahl I know, but he does have a problem with being too blunt for his own good as a politician.
After finishing third in the 1994 Republican gubernatorial primary, won by Gary Johnson, Dendahl mused that he probably wasn't cut out to be a candidate because of his outspoken manner.
But here he is, back again. He couldn't resist. Dendahl says he never enters a race he doesn't intend to win. But this race isn't really about being governor, it's about weakening Richardson's possible bid for national office.
My guess is that Dendahl really is doing this for the Republican National Committee, which would like to continue the Democratic Party's inability to find an attractive candidate for president.
Dendahl has long been close to the national GOP leadership. Although he's never held an office at that level, he can accomplish the sorts of things in this state that top party operatives like to see. He's now embarking on a mission they know he can do better than anyone else.
Four years ago, Richardson won election by a 17-point margin. This time, he'd like to extend it to 20 percent. A 60-40 victory is a rout. Dendahl wants to whittle down Richardson's previous margin -- to as low as 10 percent if possible.
That 10 percent is not going to happen unless Dendahl gets a generous amount of national help, especially money. He must have the resources for major television buys.
Without big money, Dendahl will be a sacrificial wolf. That's blogger Joe Monahan's terminology. He says no way will Dendahl ever be a lamb.
WED, 6-28-06

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



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