Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1-11 Party Bosses Pick Their Favorites

FRI, 1-11-08

SANTA FE - When four of New Mexico's five congressional seats opened as a result of fallout from Sen. Pete Domenici's retirement, political hopefuls around the state were ecstatic. But such was not necessarily the case with party leaders.
There would be too much chaos. Everyone and his dog would want to jump in. And the strongest general election candidates weren't likely to emerge from such a situation.
At first, it appeared the races would be wild and wooly with many choices for voters. But then the dropouts began. More "family problems" emerged among state politicos than even Dr. Phil could imagine. One by one, promising candidates with political experience and the ability to raise money began to note complicating family situations.
Many, perhaps all, could be true. Uprooting a family and moving to Washington, D, C, is a shock. Commuting from New Mexico is even worse. Those are major decisions the family of any young aspiring politician must face. One might have thought that more would have considered those decisions earlier and reached a conclusion one way or the other.
We political junkies like to consider the distinct possibility of party officials manipulating races, making decisions about who fits where best. We know that Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez was told by top Senate leaders to stay our of our U.S. Senate race. There may have been no deal for Marty because he now is challenging the term limit ordinance that prevents him from immediately seeking another mayoral term.
And we know Rep. Tom Udall was talked into leaving the safe seat he had decided to keep in order to enter the Senate race. And might GOP leaders be trying to convince either Rep. Heather Wilson or Rep. Steve Pearce to keep their safe seat and not leave two seats open?
In the 1st Congressional District, a Republican state legislator, interested in seeking the seat being vacated by Rep. Heather Wilson was told he would receive no party support if he won the primary. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White is the choice of party leaders in that race.
The hand of party leadership is not yet visible on the Democratic side of the 1st Congressional District. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a major question mark in that race. Obviously it was not awarded to Mayor Chavez as a consolation prize even though he has won essentially the same district three times in mayoral races.
Martin Heinrich appears to be a reasonably good candidate but the party hasn't indicated a strong affection for him yet. Could Democrat leaders still be looking? Prize-winning author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez also has indicated an interest and says her success in fundraising will determine whether she enters.
Since GOP leaders have picked a favorite in the 1st Congressional District, maybe they would like to talk Rep. Steve Pearce into keeping his 2nd Congressional District seat. He could keep it easily and party brass don't seem to have picked a favorite in that district's primary contest.
The 2nd Congressional District poses the most wide-open primary races of any of New Mexico's congressional contests. Until recently, it appeared both parties were keeping their hands off the races. But the recent departure of state Rep. Joseph Cervantes, of Las Cruces, has political observers whispering.
For several years, Cervantes has been considered a rising star. He is bright, articulate and has family money that could be helpful in a race. He's also the only Hispanic in the Democrat primary. And therein may lie the problem. Hispanic Democrats have not fared well running for that position.
Among the unsuccessful Hispanics were two retired high court judges who had always carried the district in their judicial races. Another problem seems to be that candidates from the west side of the district do not fare well either. Cervantes pled family considerations but might there be more to that story?

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