Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 22, 2006

10-27 Anonymous Congressional Challengers

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- With somewhere around 25 percent of the electorate already having voted, few New Mexicans yet know much of anything about the congressional candidates on their ballot.
That's with the notable exception of the 1st Congressional District, where we know too much about the candidates, and little of it is good.
The situation is not unusual nationwide. Only about 30 seats out of the 535 in Congress are competitive, and the incumbent still wins most of those. But this year, with Republicans in trouble nationally, the competitive seats held by the GOP definitely are in play.
That is where both parties are putting their money. Gobs of it, with almost no attention being paid to the other 500 seats. So the rest of us have to suffer while the House candidates in Albuquerque slug it out and we hear almost nothing about our Senate and House races.
The majority of New Mexico voters probably can name their U.S. House member and the incumbent U.S. senator who is up for election. But it's unlikely more than about one percent can name the challengers.
Those three candidates have received no help from their state or national party so we won't be seeing them on TV. That's too bad, because they're OK guys, but they're anonymous.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Republican Ron Dolin still hasn't filed a campaign report. He doesn't have to because he hasn't raised $5,000 yet.
When a group wants to schedule a debate between him and incumbent Rep. Tom Udall, Dolin takes vacation leave from his Los Alamos employer. Otherwise he stays on his job as a Ph.D. mechanical engineer for Bechtel, the new national lab contractor.
Dolin gets his word out mainly through a Web site, into which he has put a great amount of effort stating positions on a large number of issues facing the federal government. The site also contains a blog with many interesting observations, not all of which agree with GOP philosophy.
In the 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Al Kissling gets around a lot more than Dolin does. Kissling is a retired Presbyterian minister with a great amount of energy. He has been in every county in his district at least once and has appeared on many talk shows.
Kissling makes a very good presentation, as one might expect of a preacher. He has a good grasp of the issues facing our nation and knows his party's position.
He would love to be able to debate Republican incumbent, Rep. Steven Pearce. But Pearce, like Gov. Bill Richardson, won't hear of it. In order to quiet Kissling's criticism's of his unwillingness to debate, Pearce agreed to a joint appearance in Las Cruces on a weekday afternoon, with no television coverage.
But that was it. As it did with Gov. Richardson's refusal to debate, KOB-TV in Albuquerque gave Kissling a half hour with its evening anchors to get his word out. Kissling put the time to good use with a polished performance.
Pearce doesn't have presidential ambitions, but otherwise his reasons for not debating are about the same as Richardson's. Basically, he doesn't have to. People will put him back in office anyway, so why go to the trouble?
Debates seldom do incumbents much good. The risks they might trip up or their opponent might hit a home run are greater than anything they might gain. And voters don't seem to punish them for not debating.
Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington is the GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. McCulloch was impressive in winning the Republican primary last June against a state senator, who had run for statewide office before, and a Santa Fe city councilor.
But the win didn't give him enough of a boost to get his blip up on the radar screen in the general election. The Farmington urologist reportedly has family money but this race just doesn't look promising enough for much of an investment.
FRI, 10-27-06

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



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