Inside the Capitol

Friday, September 08, 2006

9-15 Why won't guv admit he's running for president?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Why doesn't Gov. Bill Richardson admit he is a candidate for president of the United States?
Because he doesn't know if he will be. Like about 50 other people, he is going through the necessary moves to position himself for a run, but no one has declared his or her candidacy at this point. And none will for some time. That's just the way the game is played.
There's probably not a person on the planet who knows of Bill Richardson who doesn't know that he has an intense desire to be president. He has been confiding that to close associates for at least 25 years and the word has gotten out.
But wannabes can't appear too anxious, lest they suffer political embarrassment, because only a handful will end up as serious contenders.
All potential candidates know they face many unknowns when they enter a race. Richardson's learning experience came when he was secretary of Energy in 2000 and on the short list of vice-presidential choices for Al Gore.
A sudden spike in oil prices followed by the loss of important tapes during the Los Alamos forest fire and a disastrous U.S. Senate committee hearing spelled his very quick exit from further consideration.
So Richardson will continue his visits to states with early presidential primaries, but he won't make any announcement until next summer when the Iowa state fair signals it is decision time.
This year's congressional races may signal how good a shot Democrats have at the presidency in 2008. Congressional Democrats are projected to pick up seats in both chambers. They need six in the Senate and 15 in the House.
A Senate takeover appears impossible, since only 15 Republican seats are contested this year. Some analysts think the House Republican majority could be toppled this year because 232 Republicans must defend their seats.
When Republicans ousted the Democrat majority in 1994, their gain was 15 seats. The issue then was Bill Clinton's imperial presidency and Hillary's strongarm attempt to muscle through a healthcare plan. Does an unpopular war trump that this year?
My guess is that Democrats can't duplicate the Republican feat of 1994. I credit that Republican victory largely to Rep. Newt Gingrich, a forceful leader who emerged at the right time and gave GOP candidates a platform and a plan to rout the Democrat majority.
That platform was called Contract With America. It resonated with voters and it united Republican House members as they never had been before.
This is September, less than two months before the election, and Democrats don't have a clearly defined alternative to propose to voters. In 1994, Gingrich trotted out his plan in March. I remember it well because the family and I had retreated to our favorite rural beach in Hawaii, away from television, telephones and cell towers.
But Rep. Steve Schiff, of New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, somehow tracked me down anyway. "A congressman wants to speak to you" seems to carry a lot of weight.
Schiff was the most excited I ever heard him. He didn't agree with everything in the Contract With America but he had the feeling that Gingrich had what it took to lead Republicans to a big enough victory that they would take over the U.S. House in November. And he wanted to tell me about it.
One of the 15 takeaways that Democrats are planning this year is Schiff's former seat, now held by Heather Wilson. Polls show her with a narrow lead, less than the margin of error, but Wilson has looked vulnerable before and always closed strong with a comfortable margin.
That isn't supposed to happen. The district is majority Democrat and is always rated as a "swing district." But as blogger Joe Monahan points out, it has never swung. Ever since it was created in 1982, the district has voted Republican for Congress.
It's likely to do that again this year. But don't ever count out Patricia Madrid.
FRI, 9-15-06

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



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