Inside the Capitol

Sunday, November 04, 2007

11-7 Now Is the Time for All Good Politicians...


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Hold onto your hats. The 2008 congressional elections will be like none other in the history of the state. Three, and possibly four, of New Mexico's five seats in Congress will be wide open awaiting a decision by voters.

      This is the best opportunity New Mexico politicians have ever had to nail themselves a seat in Congress. For those who have been biding their time for years, waiting for just the right situation, it has arrived.

      U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici's surprise retirement announcement set the action in motion. When the two Republican members of the U.S. House quickly jumped into the race to move up to the Senate, their seats became vacant. If our third representative, Democrat Tom Udall, jumps into the Senate race, he vacates his seat also.

      In that case, the only congressional incumbent New Mexico will have is Democrat Sen. Jeff Bingaman who is happily watching, having swept to a new six-year term a year ago.

      Sen. Domenici had no more than announced that he was about to make an announcement when the speculation began. And soon after that came the beginning of official entries into the three races.

      First to jump into the Senate race were U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce. Republicans try to keep those sorts of things from happening but this was the chance of a political career for both.

    Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation normally remain in office until they die or become severely infirmed. Sen. Bingaman is a very healthy 64. He runs every day and leads one of the cleaner lives of anyone I know well.

   Wilson has seniority over Pearce and has been Domenici's protégé ever since he cleared a path for her to Congress after Rep. Steve Schiff's death in 1998.

   Wilson appeared to have some advance knowledge of Domenici's decision before he announced it. Early in the year, she began finding reasons to make appearances all over the state. And just as when Rep. Bill Richardson began straying from his congressional district in the '90s, it didn't take long for folks to become suspicious.

   But Pearce jumped in quickly after Wilson. He has the personal wealth to finance anything he can't raise, so expect an all out campaign from him. He is a rock solid conservative and a better team player than Wilson, who always has shown an independent streak, but more so during her narrow victory against Patricia Madrid last year.

   National Republican leaders are having an easier time keeping order in the 1st Congressional District that Wilson is vacating. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White is their choice to replace Wilson. He also serves as Bernalillo County GOP chairman and has headed up President Bush's presidential campaigns in New Mexico.

   Two Bernalillo County legislators have expressed interest in the race, but one of them announced publicly that he has been told to stay out and that if he does win the primary, he will receive no national party assistance next November.

   That is extremely unlikely since every seat counts in a Congress as evenly divided as our present one. Both national parties will be in New Mexico big time next year. TV stations already are licking their chops.

   In the 2nd Congressional District, Democrats had already been lining up to take on Rep. Pearce. Now that he is gone, the race will get fuller. Expect heavyweights Rep. Joseph Cervantes, of Las Cruces, and former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague to jump in this week. And there will be more.

   Republicans have been a little slower to get on the merry-go-round, but they are starting to come. Ed Tinsley, owner of K-Bob's Restaurant chain, is expected to announce this week. He gave Steve Pearce a good race five years ago when Rep. Harold Runnels announced his retirement for health reasons.

   And in the 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Tom Udall's decision to reconsider the Senate race has a half dozen hopefuls anxiously awaiting their chance.

WED, 11-05-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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