Inside the Capitol

Friday, December 14, 2007

12-21 Interesting Matchups in Congressional Contests


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Some interesting match ups are beginning to develop in New Mexico's four congressional races.

      In the Republican U.S. Senate contest, Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson are in a battle of the titans. It's not often that two members of the U.S. House give up their seats, especially Pearce, who almost surely could have been congressman for life.

      But one of them is going to be out of politics, at least for awhile. The political pros are guessing it will be Wilson., who has had some difficulty holding onto her current House seat.

      Wilson is a moderate who represents a moderate district. Her problem is that she first has to win a statewide primary election in which conservative Republican turnout usually carries the day. That fits Pearce's profile much better.

      So Wilson is at a disadvantage when it comes to the issues. Republican voters and nominating convention delegates are likely to prefer Pearce's position on the issues.

      That means Wilson has to look for other campaign themes. The first one she tried was to characterize Pearce, 60, as too old. By the time he gets any power, she said, he will be as old as Pete Domenici, 75, is now.

      It hasn't worked out well. Wilson is going to have to do better opposition research. There isn't much she can say about accepting contributions from sources that later proved to be tainted, since they both were involved in those embarrassments.

   Possibly it could be Pearce's relationship with House Resources Committee chairman Rep. Richard Pombo, under whom Pearce rose quickly as a subcommittee chairman. Some of Pombo's activities led to his 2006 defeat.

   In the 1st Congressional District seat left open by Wilson, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and state Sen. Joe Carraro will duke it out. White is the favorite and the national party's choice, but Carraro always makes his contests interesting.

   That's because Joe Carraro is an interesting guy. He holds four degrees from the University of New Mexico, including a PhD in human behavior. He has been a stock broker, financial analyst, writer and international business consultant. Currently he owns a pizza parlor and runs Project Share, which he founded to feed the homeless.

   He is a maverick who espouses the Gary Johnson principle of people before politics. He notes that he is the only Republican in the Democratic-controlled Legislature in the past 15 years to be named a committee chairman.

   Carraro runs for higher office often, and when he does manages to attract headlines with attacks on administration officials. His current issue is the cost of the Rail Runner commuter train, which gives him plenty to talk about.

   Over on the Democratic side of the 1st Congressional District there is uneasiness over whether they are creating enough excitement to take the district away from the GOP, which has held it ever since the district's creation in 1982.

   The war is a big issue but congressional Democrats haven't done a thing to get our troops out. Carraro talks about wanting to end the war too, so at this point, there isn't much noticeable difference between the parties.

   City Councilor Martin Heinrich is the leading contender. He picked up a union endorsement last week but he's not really setting the world on fire. Former state Health secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham should add some spark to the race when she gets her campaign cranked up.

   What could set the contest on fire would be the entrance of chick lit novelist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who has influenced pop culture nationally with sassy books, such as her best-selling "Dirty Girls Social Club."

   But despite her national fame, she's still not particularly recognizable in Albuquerque. Last year, she applied for a business license for Dirty Girls, Inc. The city clerk's office said they didn't license business like that. She said her business wasn't like that and had to go to her car to get a copy of the past week's newspaper with a front page headline story about her national fame.

   If she can raise $5,000, she'll get in the Democratic primary.

FRI, 12-21-07


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

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



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