Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Can You Say "Sen. Richardson"


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Lets cut to the chase. Or past the chase, actually. Bill Richardson will be New Mexico's next U.S. Senator. The clues are too strong to ignore.

      Richardson's presidential campaign is slipping. After gaining traction last spring, he moved into double figures in Iowa presidential polls and some in New Hampshire during the summer.

      But now he's back to single digits in those states and has never been  on the radar screen in most of the rest. His personal charm and intimacy in handshaking tours has not been able to overcome flubbed interviews and mediocre debate performances.

   And even though he's liked by the national media, the time they devote to him in debates is shrinking. It is at the point that his lead among second tier candidates is being taken over by Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden.

   Anything can happen, of course. Four years ago, no one expected Howard Dean's big lead to crumble and few expected John Kerry to take over that lead.

   Richardson has spent too much time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire not to stay in the race until those contests in early January. He has hired 80 staff and has bought the most TV time of any candidate in Iowa.

   If he pulls off a big surprise and finishes second or third in either primary, he'll stay in a little longer to see what kind of boost that gives him. It's a pretty safe bet that he'll be out at least by early February.

   Pundits guess that his make-nice with Hillary Clinton means he's angling for her pick as a vice-presidential candidate or secretary of state if she wins. Richardson would love to be secretary of state so he certainly wants to keep that option open.

   But it isn't assured that Clinton will win the presidency or that she would appoint him secretary of state. Former President Bill Clinton promised Richardson the cabinet post at the Interior Department in 1993, but changed his mind at the last minute.

   A safer bet is that if Richardson runs for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico, he will win. He'll have much tougher opposition than in his gubernatorial races, so he won't win all but one county, but he'll still be a big favorite.

   And he would get tremendous support from national Democrat decision makers who would love to pick up that Senate seat. It is possible that those leaders have talked Richardson into defending their presidential frontrunner in return for appearances by former President Clinton in Richardson's Senate campaign.

   Trust me, the Democrat and Republican national big wigs are busily working the phones trying to line up the strongest possible congressional tickets in every state.

   It happens every two years. But next year, in New Mexico, it will be the proverbial perfect storm. Pete Domenici's departure from the U.S. Senate already has attracted both of the state's Republican members of the U.S. House to the race.

   That's one more than GOP leaders would like because it opens up both House seats, which they currently hold. The contests for both also will attract much national party participation.

   Rep. Tom Udall, who holds the state's one Democratic House seat, also is being encouraged to take a look at the U.S. Senate race. And so is Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. But the ideal scenario is for Udall to keep his seat and for Denish to move up to governor and then run for the spot in 2010 as the incumbent.

   Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez already has announced for the Senate race and claims the support of numerous Richardson backers. But reports are that Richardson's lieutenants have been advising people to "keep their powder dry." It is significant that Chavez is not claiming donations from them yet, but says he has $560,000 in pledges.

   Five years ago, Chavez dropped out of the gubernatorial race when Richardson got in. He may have to do the same thing in the U.S. Senate race.

MON, 11-05-07


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

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



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