Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 07, 2008

8-8 NM Contests in National Spotlight

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico is in the national spotlight with all of its congressional contests wide open. There will be no incumbent victories in 2008 because no incumbents are running for their present seats.
Pete Domenici got it started when he announced early that he wouldn't be seeking reelection. That opened the Senate seat. Then all three of New Mexico's House members decided they wanted that seat.
The timing was a little off for Gov. Bill Richardson, who was still hanging in the presidential race. Many Democrats wanted him to acknowledge his inevitable defeat and switch to the New Mexico senatorial contest.
With Richardson in the Senate race, it is possible none of our House members would have risked their current positions to take him on when his popularity was still running high.
That would have left New Mexico with a considerable amount of seniority in the House. We would have had a freshman senator but Bill Richardson would have been at the head of his class as far as influence is concerned.
As it is, New Mexico's congressional delegation will consist of four rookies and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a 26-year Senate veteran who didn't have to run this year. Bingaman will be shouldering a heavy load seeing that our state's interests are protected.
With so much at stake, expectations were that general election campaigns would start soon after the early June primaries decided the candidates.
But activity has been somewhat less than expected. Much of that is due to most candidates having to raise and spend large amounts of money winning their primaries. The first order of business in the general election was to begin raising large amounts of money again.
One exception was Rep. Tom Udall, who had no primary election opposition in the Democratic Senate race. Udall ran TV ads during the primary and continued them, without interruption, in the general. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee, didn't get the money together to start his ads until this week.
Two months out of the public eye has put Pearce anywhere from eight points to 25 points behind Udall. Pearce is touting the poll that put him only eight points down, but a subsequent poll shows Udall, again, with over a 20-point lead.
The race is important enough nationally that NBC's Meet the Press has asked Udall and Pearce to carry their campaign debate onto its Sunday morning show. Udall has been trying to hold joint appearances and debates down to an absolute minimum, but Meet the Press is one he can't turn down.
In the 1st Congressional District, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White is the frontrunner, but the Republican nominee has been much quieter than expected. And now he is laid up with a back injury from a fall off a treadmill.
White hasn't raised money as easily as expected and national GOP groups haven't either. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged $1.3 million to Martin Heinrichs' campaign. That race could tighten.
In the 2nd Congressional District, Lincoln County rancher/restaurateur Ed Tinsley is the frontrunner over Democratic Lea County oilman Harry Teague.
Tinsley has been in hot water about a part time home in Santa Fe but he was surely present when Ruidoso needed him to organize local restaurants to donate food for those displaced by recent flooding.
Teague is from a more populous county, is willing to put his own money into his campaign and has been targeted for $1.2 million from national Democrats, so he'll make it a close race.
In Congressional District 3, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan is a solid favorite over his Republican opponent and two independent candidates.
Lujan has outraised Republican Dan East 17 to 1 since the general campaign began. In addition, East is being sued by his primary election campaign strategist for nonpayment of fees.
At this point independent candidate Carol Miller is well ahead of East and independent Ron Simmons in the money game.
FRI, 8-08-08

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



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