Inside the Capitol

Monday, October 16, 2006

10-20 Republicans Will Eke It Out

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We've been hearing dire predictions about the fate of the Republican Party in the 2006 elections.
At this point, I'm willing to accept that GOP candidates have been weakened, but I'm not yet convinced that it is to the extent of losing control of either house of Congress.
One of the 15 seats in the U.S. House that Republicans would have to lose in order for Democrats to take control is New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, currently being represented by Rep. Heather Wilson.
Telltale signs are emerging that this race may not be quite like Wilson's previous victories in which opponents surged close to her in pre-election polls and outdid her on election day, only to be inundated by absentee ballots giving her an easy victory.
The Bernalillo county clerk's office reports that 9,000 of the first 13,000 absentee ballots it mailed earlier this month were to Democrats. Unless many of those 9,000 are Democrats who traditionally have supported Wilson, that looks like a sea change.
Republicans have long had a distinct advantage in organizing absentee ballot drives. Their voters have responded much more dependably to mailings urging them to vote absentee.
The difference this year is that Gov. Bill Richardson is using some of those millions he has collected for his campaign to hire workers throughout the state to personally contact Democrats with absentee ballot applications.
We'll learn on election night just how successful Richardson's field effort has been. It should assist all Democrat candidates. Wilson's challenger, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, says she also has a strong door-to-door campaign in Albuquerque.
The changing tide of New Mexican feelings about President Bush and the war in Iraq is hurting Wilson. It doesn't help that she was on the House Select Committee on Intelligence when President Bush outlined his justifications for taking us to war.
Wilson also is skewered for being one of three members on the House Page Board from 2001 to 2005, while the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley began unfolding.
Wilson says she never heard a thing about Foley's actions toward male pages. There is little reason to disbelieve her even though the head of the page board admits he was aware of the misbehavior.
In Congress, party loyalty trumps all else because members of the majority party get the major perks. That means allegations of member misconduct travel up through the party's hierarchy rather than being referred to the page board.
The third member of that board was a Democrat. There was no way he could be told. It appears that Foley only messed around with pages sponsored by Republican House members. If Democrats had any prior knowledge, they would have blown the whistle long ago.
Republican political pundit Robert Novak has now moved the Wilson-Madrid race into his "lean Democrat" column, stating that the district cannot be counted on to perform as in the past.
The trouble for Democrats is that the district, even though it always has been majority Democrat, has been won by three different Republicans 12 straight times since its creation in 1982.
Is the 13th time a charm? Are conditions sufficiently different this time? The last time an unpopular president kept us in an unpopular war was 1968.
That president was a Democrat. Our two congressmen were Democrats and they were both beaten by Republican challengers, while we also were electing a Republican governor and president.
We are told not to compare Iraq with Vietnam but it could happen again. I'm guessing, at this point, that it won't quite happen. Texas and Colorado redistricted congressional seats again in 2003 after Republicans took over those legislatures. The seats they gained may provide the cushion Republicans need to keep control of the House.
And by the time you read this, Sen. Pete Domenici likely will be in the state stumping for his prot�g�.
I'll let you know if new developments change my assessment.
FRI, 10-20-06

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



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