Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

5-30 Unkindest Political Cuts

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Negative campaigning was not unexpected in this years congressional races. With all three of New Mexico's U.S. House delegation running for the Senate and 21 major party candidates competing for those three vacated seats, it was bound to get wild.
The biggest surprise has been the 1st Congressional District, home of New Mexico's most vicious battles in the past, where none of the six candidates in two primaries has yet to notice the starting bell. They'll get a big surprise when they turn their calendars to June and see the election is only three days away.
Otherwise, it's "Katie bar the door," as my old buddy Ernie Mills used to say. Although candidates for the other three offices promised to make nice, primaries for those three congressional seats have featured some of the unkindest cuts in state history.
That bothers leaders in both parties because they know the opposition will be able to use some of those charges against the winner in the general election. Let's look at some of those unkind cuts.
The Republican U.S. Senate primary, featuring two House members who are betting the farm on returning to Washington, features a bare knuckles fight between Rep. Heather Wilson and Rep. Steve Pearce.
Pearce got things started by noting that Wilson sometimes was on the same side of issues as liberal Tom Udall. As if "liberal" weren't bad enough in a Republican primary, Pearce then noted that Wilson had voted with Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi on a bill that would have created socialized medicine. Ouch.
Wilson fired back that the money was for children's health care and was supported by Sen. Pete Domenici. And how dare Rep. Pearce criticize a bill St. Pete supports?
Both Wilson and Pearce would like Domenici's endorsement. Pete doesn't seem inclined to give it. Long Pete's protégé, Wilson invokes his name often. Pearce would be happy just to have him stay out of the matter. But a supporter has printed bumper stickers saying, "For Pete's Sake -- Vote Pearce."
For her part, Wilson has called Pearce "stupid" in an ad questioning Pearce's strategy when amending a bill. Then she cut another ad dinging him for supporting a bill cutting a Social Security benefit for widows and orphans.
Never put much stock in votes that don't sound quite right. Anytime a member of Congress votes on an omnibus spending bill there will be items in it opponents can use no matter which way the member votes.
Another top item on the "Unkindest-Cuts" list is 2nd Congressional District candidate Aubrey Dunn, Jr.'s description of opponent Ed Tinsley as a Santa Fe liberal. Tinsley owns a home in Santa Fe and is receiving support from the National Restaurant Association, which has noted that restaurant work is one of those jobs that Americans avoid.
Tinsley countered with an ad pointing out that Dunn has been a Republican for only seven months and candidate Monty Newman raised taxes 19 times as mayor of Hobbs.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Don Wiviott called Ben Ray Lujan a casino dealer whose politically powerful father got him a top job in state government. Lujan countered, calling Wiviott a multimillionaire Texas developer -- three very bad words in northern New Mexico.
So far, the name-calling has been confined to television ads, with few debates or even joint candidate appearances. We saw what happened to Democratic 1st Congressional District candidate Patricia Madrid two years ago when she faltered badly trying to answer a question during a televised debate.
Rep. Heather Wilson filled the airwaves with that embarrassing moment, which may have turned the election around. Wilson is a good debater.
Pearce comes from a 2nd Congressional District tradition in which the incumbent refuses to debate. He has been playing hard to get but so far has held his own in any face offs.
FRI, 5-30-08

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



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