Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 29, 2006

11-1 GOP Chances

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The state GOP has had more than its share of bad luck this year, but it may pull our a few good wins anyway.
Events at the national level have not helped. National leaders have dusted off an old Democrat clich´┐Ż that "all politics is local," but it surely appears that the president and Republican Congressional leaders will have a major negative impact on local and state races.
We need only to look back at 1994 to remember how badly national politics can poison local races. Democrats lost both houses of Congress by big margins. It could happen again, although no one is predicting a loss of 50-some seats in the House this time. Fifteen is all the Democrats need.
Then there were the two doctors who were predicted to be just what the party needed to nurse it back to health. Urologist Allen McCulloch won a convincing U.S. Senate primary in June but has been a non-factor in challenging incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who may lead the Democrat ticket in November.
To make matters worse, McCulloch was cited for careless driving in an auto accident that caused the other vehicle to burst into flames inflicting serious burns to the wife of a former state senator the GOP once punished for getting too friendly with Democrat legislative leaders.
Radiologist J.R. Damron was unopposed in the Republican gubernatorial primary, so garnered no free publicity in June. By July, dead in the water, he was replaced by former state GOP chairman John Dendahl.
High hopes that the feisty Dendahl would energize the campaign with an all-out assault on Gov. Bill Richardson were soon dashed when Dendahl ran into major problems raising money to get those attacks on the air.
Dendahl said his problem was caused by Richardson's intimidation of potential donors. But other factors had to be Richardson's 2-1 lead in the polls 20-1 lead in fundraising. Richardson is expected to be close behind Bingaman on election day, with over a 60 percent showing.
Dendahl received a further setback when his capable spokeswoman, Paige McKenzie, was savagely beaten while on the job. She is slowly recovering but will be out for the rest of the campaign.
Another setback came from 1st Congressional District incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson who suggested Gov. Richardson might be a good envoy to talk with North Korea about its nuclear intentions.
National GOP hit-woman Ann Coulter came to Dendahl's rescue on that one, calling Richardson "Kim Jong Il's pal." She also called Richardson an idiot.
Wilson's positive gesture toward Richardson was an indication that she's in the race of her congressional career. I'm still picking her for a narrow victory but I'm in the minority.
Below the governor's race, things seem to be getting a little brighter. Most newspapers around the state appear to be giving endorsements to Republicans for secretary of state, state auditor and state land commissioner.
Money is coming in hot and heavy for Republican candidates in the statewide down-ballot races. Most of it has been in big chunks from Houston home builder Bob Perry, no relation to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
When asked about the big donations to these candidates and to several legislative races, Perry explained that New Mexico has an effect on the Texas economy.
He would know better than I since it's his money. I've tried to confirm that with some of my Texas acquaintances, but so far, they haven't quit laughing long enough to give me an answer.
As for those legislative races, the New Mexico GOP could buck the national trend by picking up a few seats this year. Democrat retirements in some House districts that could go Republican may lead to GOP gains in Rep. Joe Stell's Eddy County district and in Fred Luna's and Kandy Cordova's Valencia County seats.
Democrat Rep. Don Whitaker will get a tough challenge in Lea County, as will some other Democrat incumbents in GOP territory.
WED, 11-1-06

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



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