Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12-12 State GOP Split May Widen

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- How much does it tear up a political party to have a hotly contested primary election? Conventional wisdom says it is a bad idea. Party leaders should step in, broker some withdrawals and unite behind a candidate.
National Republican leaders did just that last spring. After the first several presidential primaries, they stepped in and declared Sen. John McCain the eventual winner.
From there, the withdrawals began. McCain had three extra months to consolidate his campaign, while Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out, down to almost the final delegate.
The predictions were that the protracted battle would result in neither candidate's supporters being willing to back the other. But it wasn't long before Clinton began making appearances for Obama and delivering the majority of women's votes.
And now we see a cabinet filled with former presidential opponents and Bill Clinton administration staffers. Some have called it a team of rivals after Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the political genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Gov. Bill Richardson disagrees that the former presidential office seekers should be called rivals because they are pledging themselves to the Obama team and seemingly to a united Democratic party at the national level.
So the long battle didn't seem to hurt. It may not have helped either but some credit the drawn out campaign with kindling interest in Americans who never had participated in the political process before.
In New Mexico, on the other hand, the state GOP had no luck getting either of two political heavyweights to stay out of the primary contest to replace Sen. Pete Domenici
U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce both wanted it enough to give up their House seats in order to run for the Senate. Both lost and both have hard feelings.
Those feelings, however, existed prior to the primary campaigns. For some time, a battle has existed between what might be described as moderate and conservative wings of the GOP.
Wilson, representing the moderate wing, and Pearce, the conservative, served to deepen that divide. Wilson insisted that only Republican moderates can win statewide elections.
Republican voters weren't convinced and selected Pearce to take on Rep. Tom Udall. Instead of running toward the middle as candidates of both parties tend to do in general elections, Pearce ran as a strict conservative and lost by a big margin.
Wilson and her backers contend that proves her point. Pearce and his backers contend that if Wilson had been helping in the general election instead of continuing to work against Pearce, he would have run a stronger race.
But the GOP split goes deeper than political philosophy. It involves personalities. Some of the people in the current Republican power structure have been rubbing party members the wrong way for years.
Pearce wants to take over the reins of the state GOP and promises to bring in new faces as party staff, consultants and fundraisers.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports that this Saturday Republicans will hold an emergency meeting in Albuquerque to decide whether to stay with the schedule for party officer elections on January 10 or postpone them until late February. Monahan says it essentially will be a test vote on who has the power in the state GOP.
Possibly state Republicans would have been as badly split even without a contentious Senate primary but it certainly didn't do anything to help them.
Whatever else happens, Heather Wilson may not enjoy much more Republican support in the state. Sen. Pete Domenici was her biggest backer and won't have the power to help much anymore. And she's burned a lot of bridges since the primary election.
But don't be surprised to see her land on her feet. She's highly talented, with a great background in national security. Those qualities should enable her to do just fine in Washington if that's what she decides she wants to do.
FRI, 12-12-08

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



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