Inside the Capitol

Sunday, November 19, 2006

11-22 CD1 Stays In GOP Column

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As predicted here, the 1st Congressional District kept it record unblemished. Despite having 39,000 more Democrats than Republicans, it has elected a Republican every two years since its creation in 1968.
That feat is especially noteworthy since, until 1982, the district included northern New Mexico. Popular Republican Manuel Lujan represented the district back in those days.
Rep. Lujan almost was picked off by newcomer Bill Richardson in 1980, so when reapportionment gave New Mexico a third congressional seat in 1981, Lujan was more than happy to cede Northern New Mexico to Richardson.
Lujan then kept the Albuquerque-centered district until his retirement in 1988. Steve Schiff took over from him until his death in 1998, when Rep. Heather Wilson took over.
During this year's bitter battle between Wilson and Attorney General Madrid, I had occasional misgivings about my prognostication that Wilson would keep the seat. Except for GOP political analysts, the rest of the pundits were predicting Wilson's political demise. And so were the polls, giving Madrid anywhere from a 2 percent to a 10 percent lead.
But I remembered all those times Schiff and Madrid overcame election day losses at the polls to swamp opponents once the absentee ballots were counted. Add to that the loyalty of federal government workers and retirees to Republican candidates and I figured they'd pull Wilson through again.
An advantage of over $1.5 million in spending also helped Wilson. But in the final analysis my hunches could have proven wrong except for Madrid helping to beat herself with a very poor debate performance, which Wilson pounced on with a flurry of ads.
Madrid's poor communication skills came as a surprise, considering that she is a seasoned politician and a lawyer. But her background isn't in trial law.
Wilson's communications skills weren't strong either when she first entered politics less than 10 years ago. But she's a quick study on any subject and soon had the art of debate mastered.
We are told now that even Wilson's own polling had Madrid running ahead. The polls that ran closest to reality appear to have been those of Gov. Bill Richardson. Not only did they forecast victory for him in 32 of 33 counties, they showed the Wilson-Madrid race closer than one-half of one percent.
Richardson said Madrid was slightly ahead but no poll can be that accurate. The best evidence seems to indicate that Madrid began slipping after the debate. Had the election been a day or two earlier, Madrid might have won.
In hindsight, Madrid should have rejected all debates. That is very unconventional for a challenger but it is exactly what some Democratic congressional challengers did around the country. And it worked.
The numbers, two days after the election, made victory look certain for Wilson, but I refrained from commenting on it because I remember another piece of election history and I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.
How often do you remember a surprised Democratic county clerk discovering an uncounted box of ballots in a basement, bathroom or broom closet? And those mystery ballots just happened to put the Democrat candidate over the top.
I'm sure it never happened, but the story is legend about the statewide candidate who supposedly called former Rio Arriba County Democratic Chairman Emilio Naranjo to say he was behind in the count and how many votes did Rio Arriba have for him.
Naranjo's answer: How many do you need? This year, that shoe never dropped. Not yet, anyway.
Former Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, of Massachusetts, is credited with saying all politics is local. But that sentiment has been expressed for years by the party that controls Congress when the national tide is running against it.
Republicans said it this year, but New Mexico is one of the few states where they held their ground in Congress and the Legislature.
WED, 11-22-06

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



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