Inside the Capitol

Saturday, December 02, 2006

12-11 Top State Officials Mull Future

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- After some landslides and a cliffhanger in the 2006 elections, New Mexico's top politicos already are considering their political futures.
The major reason for these early assessments doesn't relate to anyone who ran this year. It has to do with the usual political chatter about whether Sen. Pete Domenici will seek reelection in 2008.
NBC's Chris Matthews expects Domenici not to run because he won't be content with being a backbencher. Others note that the money Pete raised last year mostly was donated to other candidates in 2006 and that he has a very slim bank balance.
Pete already has said he's going to run but that's not good enough for those who entertain dreams of succeeding him. There's nothing wrong with that. Career politicians always have to be looking for their next opportunity, lest it slip away from them.
At 74, Domenici could experience a health issue or he could decide he doesn't like life as a minority party member. A big shift in political climate would be necessary for Republicans to take back the Senate in 2008. They have 20 seats to defend, while Democrats have only 12.
But we've been hearing stories of Domenici's failing health for 20 years and nothing turned out to be major. And he's been through enough switches in political control of the Senate that he can deal with being a ranking minority member.
Some note that Pete's not out there right now raising money and it's getting late. But they always say that about Sen. Jeff Bingaman too. Both have such well-greased machines that can be cranked up easily.
So, although the bet should be on Pete to stay, not leave, New Mexico's top officeholders all are positioning themselves, just in case. The only one who doesn't covet Pete's job is Sen. Jeff Bingaman because he's already in The Club.
If Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential chances don't pan out, the Senate would look very good. He started his governmental career working for the Senate and always has aspired to end up there. He wouldn't have to risk his seat to run and he'd likely scare other hopefuls out of the race.
Rep. Heather Wilson likely was injured by her squeaker race, but she'll bounce back. And she's the one Sen. Domenici is likely to want to succeed him.
Rep. Steve Pearce also is sure to want the post. He declared his political ambitions last month when he ran for vice chairman of the House Republican caucus. He lost, but he attracted attention. A primary race against Rep. Wilson would be a doozy. Pearce also has his eye on the governor's race in 2010.
Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat, would like to be in the Senate. He has a well-known name and many people grateful to him for sharing his war chest with them when he didn't need it for his 2006 campaign.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would take a look at the race, but her eye has been on succeeding Gov. Richardson. Her choice will have to wait on Richardson's decision.
Attorney General Patricia Madrid was badly roughed up in her 2006 congressional race, but she's not the type to give up. She's looking at both U.S. Senate and governor.
Land Commissioner Patrick Lyon, a Republican, would have to seriously consider a Senate run if Domenici leaves. He'll have a free shot since he will be in the middle of a four-year term. And he won't have to deal with the static Gov. Richardson would get for taking a shot in the middle of his term.
Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, a Democrat, would be interested. He'll have some time left on his term. He says a run for the House, which requires campaigning every two years and constant fundraising, doesn't appeal to him.
Interestingly, he already has endorsed Republican Domenici for reelection. He's also interested in a 2010 gubernatorial run.

MON, 12-11-06

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



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