Inside the Capitol

Saturday, December 02, 2006

12-6 How did NM GOP Do?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- How did New Mexico Republicans do in this year's elections?
The state GOP central committee is scheduled to meet this weekend in Albuquerque to consider the subject and there is sure to be some disagreement.
Following the election, the GOP staff issued a news release announcing that the state party had held its own in the face of big national losses and big Democratic money. But not all Republicans agreed.
Sen. Joe Carraro, of Albuquerque, said he thought it was a joke email. Carraro's contempt comes, at least in part, from an unsuccessful primary election run for the U.S. Senate in which he felt the state GOP was supporting Allen McCulloch, who won the nomination.
But there are others who think the state GOP needs new direction. A major battle for the state party chairmanship is expected next spring. In fact, some predict the battle will take place this weekend, but it is not on the agenda.
The current party leadership does have a point. Republicans nationwide had to play defense this year and New Mexico Republicans didn't allow any Democratic gains.
While Republicans were losing 30 seats in the U.S. House, New Mexico Republicans held onto their targeted seat, albeit by the skin of their teeth. Reportedly, Republicans lost 300 state legislative seats around the nation. The New Mexico GOP held onto its 28 seats in the New Mexico House.
New Mexico Republicans also held onto their one statewide office, with Patrick Lyon's victory in the Land Commission race, while fielding a full slate of statewide candidates for the first time in 20 years. And most of those candidates ran competitive races.
So why shouldn't New Mexico Republicans be proud of a record like that? Most of the internal dissatisfaction seems to be centered on the top two races -- for U.S. senator and governor.
We've mentioned Sen. Carraro's beef. But had he won the GOP nomination, he'd have faced the same frustration as Allen McCulloch did, with no support from the state or national Republican parties. They wrote it off, just as they did the governor's race.
After holding the governor's office for 12 of the last 20 years, the GOP almost didn't find a gubernatorial candidate this year and then didn't find J.R. Damron a lieutenant governor running mate until three days before the filing date.
And then there was the unprecedented dumping of Damron in favor of John Dendahl only a month after the primary election. The switching of horses made little difference because Dendahl received little party support, either.
The GOP strategy likely was to save its money and effort by not bothering to go after juggernauts like Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Gov. Bill Richardson. But Dendahl contributed to the problem.
His strategy was to outdebate Richardson. Debates are free to the candidates, and when televised, reach many voters. But Richardson didn't take the bait. There were no debates.
Dendahl's other alternative was to run a campaign like fellow Republican David Cargo's two successful gubernatorial efforts back in the '60s. Cargo was a maverick, with little support from his party and few big contributors. His secret was to get free, front-page publicity by making quotable statements almost daily.
Like Dendahl, Cargo is intelligent and articulate, but his humor is a lot lighter than Dendahl's caustic manner. Cargo used it to win two races he wasn't supposed to win. But Dendahl's quips only got him in trouble. Newspapers stood ready to print his words, but they seldom came.
The race may have been hard on Dendahl. He aged two years during those five months, according to newspaper reports. In July of this year, he was listed as 67 years old. In September, he turned 68 and by October, several reports listed him as 69.
Since we were born the same year, it's been easy to keep track of John's age, but now he's suddenly passed me by.
WED, 12-06-06

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



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