Thursday, November 13, 2003

Another GOP Shocker: Zangara Mulls Challenge for GOP National Committee Seat Held By Barnett 

It's shaping up as one of the wildest weeks in the history of the New Mexico Republican Party. And the hits just keep coming. Sources now tell "New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan" that ABQ's Ken Zangara, finance chairman for the Bush re-election drive here, is seriously contemplating a challenge to Republican National Committeman Mickey Barnett. It's a continuation of the battle that went public this week between the forces of ousted chairman John Dendahl and current Chair Ramsay Gorham.

Lawyer-lobbyist Barnett and Dendahl have been fric and frac for years and are credited with resurrecting the state GOP by electing a governor, increasing Republican representation in the state legislature and protecting the GOP members on the state's Congressional delegation; accomplishments that are nothing to sneeze at. But, sources say, their continued desire to keep power, even though Dendahl was voted out, has the Gorham camp going into war mode. And auto dealer Ken Zangara has been anointed a general.

"The fight over who will control the president's re-election campaign is going to be solved, but the war between the Dendahlites and Gorham will go on until there's no blood left to spill. If Gorham is going to be anything more than a transitional chair, she will have to clean house. She has put a target on Barnett because he is the ringleader of the Dendahlites--bright, successful and determined. If the Dendahl forces are to make a comeback, it would fall to Mickey to organize it. You stop him and you have just cut off the head." That brutal assessment according to a GOP insider close to the action.

The news of the possible Zangara challenge of Barnett comes amid a whirlwind of developments this week in the state GOP that kicked up dust from Tucumcari to the Potomac. The White House was tuned in again Wednesday (to this web site, among other places) looking for the latest and apparently encouraging peacemaking talks that sources told us yesterday are underway. (see below for full details)

The election for the National Committeeman post (Rosie Tripp is NM Nat'l Committeewoman) won't be held for a while, but the possible Zangara candidacy is a clear message: Gorham is looking to consolidate power under her chairmanship and that a policy of accommodation is not in the cards. "Why should it be?" asks one of her supporters. "It's not like she stole anything. She was elected fair and square but they are making her fight for the power she should naturally have as a duly elected chair."

Ramsay knows what others know about Dendahl, Barnett and company: They are major league political operatives who don't know the meaning of losing. Their never give up attitude stunned the Democratic Party establishment in this state in the 90's, but times change and the old luster is gone. The loss of the chairmanship, as hard as it is for them to accept, was indeed lost. Gorham, as the Dendahlites assert, may be a "lightweight" but she has stunned her opponents by standing up to the national party. Some observers, including Dan Houck who resigned from the GOP Executive Committee this week, say she has buried herself by doing so and is finished as chair.

Don't count on it.

Here's how a Roundhouse insider reminded me of Gorham's two ABQ North Valley State Senate wins over Democrat Janice Paster: "Janice was one of the toughest, meanest candidates I've ever seen and I'm a fellow Democrat. When Janice lashed out, we used to say, 'You've just been Pasteurized.' That's how tough she was. But Gorham beat her twice. Not many people saw those fights. Now they are getting the flavor. Gorham may not have graduated with honors, but she's one tough gal who doesn't have a lot of quit in her."

A state convention, made up of top GOP'ers from around the Land of Enchantment, will make the Committeeman decision next May. Barnett ousted former Congressman and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan from the position a couple of years ago, but if the turmoil of today extends into the future it's anyone's guess if he can win again.

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