Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

3-21 Big Surprises at Party Conventions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- With four of New Mexico's five congressional seats wide open this year, there is no doubt this will be the most exciting election season ever.
Exciting was the word for the preprimary nominating conventions held by both major parties last weekend. With almost no public polling yet, guesses as to who the Democrats and Republicans would put on their ballots were all over the place.
Democrats always have a bigger turnout to conventions than Republicans. But with three of the four federal offices currently being held by Republicans, many expected GOP candidates for those positions would generate a heavy turnout. Democrats, however, outnumbered Republicans about 4-to-1.
The GOP U.S. Senate race turned out about as originally predicted. But those predictions were revised when Rep. Steve Pearce predicted a huge victory and his opponent, Rep. Heather Wilson, agreed.
So when Pearce won by nine points, his solid victory appeared more like a disappointment. Nevertheless Pearce termed it a huge upset and Wilson called it a victory.
What does this mean for the June 3 primary? Most predictions are that the nine-point margin will narrow. Experience tells us party conventions tend to attract the true believers -- Republicans who are more conservative and Democrats who are more liberal.
In ratings of their congressional voting records, Pearce scores in the 90 percent range among conservative groups and near zero among liberal groups. Wilson scores near 50 percent among both groups.
A moderate voting record is what Wilson needed to win her Albuquerque House district. So she wasn't expected to do well at the convention. She'll do better in the June primary but will have to run to the right of her congressional voting record in order to win.
In the 1st Congressional district, the surprise was Michelle Lujan Grisham's solid 28 percent performance compared to three-time Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who polled only 11 percent of the delegates.
Vigil-Giron explained that away by noting she got in the race only five weeks earlier and already had gathered the necessary additional signatures since she wasn't expecting to garner the required 20 percent of convention delegates.
It was no surprise that Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White took 85 percent of the vote on the GOP side. The surprise was that Sen. Joe Carraro decided the following Tuesday to stay in the race rather than file for reelection to his current state Senate seat.
Both races are still wide open in the 2nd Congressional District. On the Democratic side, young Bill McCamley surprised by taking almost 50 percent of the vote in a four-man race despite being outspent by Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague, who has Lt. Gov. Diane Denish out campaigning for him.
Aubrey Dunn, Jr. took the GOP side despite criticism for not being Republican enough. Earl Green and Ed Tinsley, who have run for the seat before, took second and third..
Just missing out on the 20 percent threshold was Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman who says he is still very much in the race. It may end up a five-candidate primary with Greg Sowards loaning his campaign big money to stay in the race.
In that six-way race in the 3rd Congressional District, unknown but well-financed Don-Wiviott surprised with 30 percent of the vote against favorite Ben Ray Lujan's 40 percent. Wiviott wasn't even expecting to get on the ballot at the convention so filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature's action last year eliminating the extra-petition route for getting on the ballot.
His suit was dropped when the 2008 Legislature repealed its new law. The other four candidates in the race may all file extra petitions to bring the race back up to six people.
No candidate using the extra-petition route has ever gone on to win a primary election but that hasn't kept them from trying. About all the nominating conventions did this year was determine the order of candidates on the ballot.
FRI, 3-21-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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