Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 10, 2007

12-12 Why Did Chavez Get Out of Senate Race?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- So how come Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez got out of the U.S. Senate race? The immediate thought among political observers was that deals were made. But Chavez said no, and it appears that's the case.

      Evidently, it was bad poll numbers that showed Chavez trailing Rep. Tom Udall by an amount so large that it would have necessitated a highly negative campaign to have a shot at closing the gap.

      Chavez says he did it for the good of the party. He's right. It will help the party not to have an expensive, fractious primary. But it also will help Chavez's future political career to not have caused that sort of grief.

      His withdrawal statement had a very positive tone and a pledge to help Udall's campaign. His future political options appear somewhat limited but it is very close to a sure bet that Chavez will be back. He's been in politics since he was a young man and it isn't out of his system yet.

      Many Democrats would like to see him drop down to the House race, where they don't have a big name candidate yet. But Chavez has frequently said he doesn't want a job he has to keep winning every two years in order to experience the polarized battles of the U.S. House.

      The 2010 gubernatorial race is a possibility. Chavez was running for that when Pete Domenici's retirement opened the U.S. Senate seat. But Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was beating him in the polls in that race and had raised a great deal more money than he had.

      Running again for mayor also is a possibility. He is term limited, but that ordinance has already been declared unconstitutional for city councilors and a challenge to the term limit on mayors likely would succeed also.

      Chavez already has been mayor longer than anyone in the city's history. Sooner or later Albuquerqueans are likely to get tired of him being mayor for life.

      And that may already have happened. Chief executives typically have problems during mid-term elections, but Chavez is having more than usual this time.

   The City Council is capable of overriding his vetoes and isn't particularly interested in supporting any of his initiatives. I have a hunch the negative reaction to the mayor's red light camera initiative is mostly about negative reactions to Chavez. Evidence from other communities says the cameras save lives.

   And yet he's won three mayoral elections on platforms that are about as popular with Republicans as they are with Democrats. And that's a major problem with Chavez in a Democratic primary. They think he ought to go over and run with the Republicans.

   So it appears there was no behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Chavez made the decision on his own without being offered any favors by Democratic officials who wanted him out. But then, if we see him jump into the House race with party backing, we'll know something is up.

   There always is the possibility that Chavez could be rewarded for good behavior with a plum federal job if Democrats were to take the White House next year. He has attained a good deal of administrative experience in the mayor's office.

   We've had plenty of surprises already, which tells us that anything is possible. Filing date for 2008 elections is not until Feb. 12. Over half the presidential primaries will have been held by then, so Gov. Bill Richardson could be in play again despite his protestations to the contrary.

   Rep. Udall still will have some competition. Alternative publisher Leland Lehrman remains in the Senate race. His left-wing politics may actually help Udall by making him look closer to the center, which is the direction he now wants to go without Chavez in the race.

   Udall's biggest problem will be his vote for decreased funding for the Los Alamos and Sandia labs. Chavez was pounding him on it and both Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson are now running against Udall on that issue.

WED, 12-12-07


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

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



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