Monday, May 08, 2006

A New NM GOP Chair? A Possible Surfaces As Roswell Battle Escalates, Plus: Hangin' With The Political Press; It's Another Blogging Monday 

What by most measures has been a snoozer of a primary could be laying the groundwork for significant change in the NM Republican party. Roswell oilman Mark Murphy, who is financing a key primary battle against the forces of State Senator "Lightning" Rod Adair and State Rep. Dan Foley, has met with NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh and discussed the possibility of taking over the party when Weh completes his term next year. That word comes from top sources of "NM Politics with Joe Monahan" who also report that Murphy's potential chairmanship bid is not being greeted with displeasure in the camp of NM Senator Pete Domenici, the titular head of the party.

"Murphy met with Weh and they talked about it. Mark is interested and is giving it serious thought," said a source close to Murphy.

I know that source is right. A month ago I saw Weh and Murphy sipping caffeine at my local Starbucks. That was apparently the day they talked of Murphy's potential candidacy. So much for my nose for news, but who needs one when you have Alligators?


Murphy (Strata Production Co. President) and his wife Susan are major supporters, financial and otherwise, of Roswell schools assistant superintendent Mike Kakuska who is battling the Adair-Foley supported Nora Espinoza for a House seat in the June 6 primary. Both sides are giving it their all, with reports of emotional and combative campaigning circulating throughout Chaves county.

Lem Martinez for NM Attorney GeneralMurphy is being encouraged to go for chair by opponents of Adair and lawyer-lobbyist Mickey Barnett and others who formed a breakaway faction of the GOP and ran candidates against fellow R's in 04'. They were also behind the 04' ouster of GOP Chair Ramsay Gorham. Bitterness reached a high point when former GOP State Rep. Greg Payne likened the Barnett faction to an "out-of-control cancer."

Republicans were dispirited by the infighting and even ousted Barnett from his GOP national committeeman spot, replacing him with George Buffet. But now opponents of the faction are looking to clean the slate completely and sap the faction of its remaining power. They believe independent oil and gas company owner and multimillionaire Murphy is their man.

Murphy has been an important contributor to the R's, giving thousands to the GOP nationally, the campaigns of U.S. Reps Wilson and Pearce and also Senator Domenici. At the Senator's urging, Murphy spearheaded the Bush 04' NM get out the vote effort. Still, the faction, probably aware of Murphy's ambitions, are slamming him for supporting Dem Senator Bingaman over R Colin McMillan in 94'.

If Kakuska beats Espinoza it could move Murphy closer to a play for the GOP power spot. A loss might dampen his enthusiasm. Whichever way it goes, the Kakuska-Espinoza battle has outgrown Roswell and now demands the attention of the statewide political community as a possible bellwether on the future of the NM GOP.


I hung with New Mexico's top political reporters and editors over the weekend, courtesy of an invite from the NM Associated Press managing editors who gathered in conference to prepare for this year's election mayhem.

There was a healthy dose of Big Bill fatigue among the ink-stained wretches who, for over three years, have been on the receiving end of every possible type of Guv press pronouncement, TV gimmick and spin doctor prescription in the known world.

Also, now that the day of judgment nears for Big Bill there was much lamenting among the panel of pundits I sat on over the lack of competitiveness in his race and others. This surfaced via queries posed by AP Santa Fe Bureau Chief Barry Massey.

Walt Rubel, capitol reporter for MediaNews Group's southern NM papers, sees numerous chances for the R's to score against the incumbent Dem Governor, but J.R. Damron, the putative R nominee, has thus far failed to take advantage. Steve Terrell of the New Mexican noted that Damron campaign manager Greg Graves is out, the first casualty of the Santa Fe doctor's candidacy and that without a campaign manager it's kind of hard to conduct a campaign.

AP Washington D.C. editor Jennifer (sorry, forgot her last name) offered the "conventional wisdom" of the capital which she says has Big Bill really seeking the vice-president slot.

Kate Nelson
ABQ Trib Managing Editor Kate Nelson said the primary campaign is not just missing in action, but there is no action. "We have a four way Democratic race for secretary of state and no campaigning," she gave as one example.

But Terrell and the others, including political reporter Jeff Jones, say the Dem race for attorney general is the one non-snoozer in the primary bunch and that while Gary King is the acknowledged frontrunner, Geno Zamora and Lem Martinez are not out of it.

"Gary has never won a statewide primary," informed Terrell. He still has some proving to do."

Jones noted an interesting new trend. "Sometimes a candidate will choose not to respond to a negative attack from an opponent. I have to bang the receiver to make sure it is working," He joked.

The panel agreed that candidates are more sensitive to TV coverage and if an attack is not playing there, they may decide to let it pass and take the hit in the less circulated printed pages.

Still, it is the work of these veteran reporters and editors that will set the agenda for the TV and other NM campaign coverage to come. The Associated Press remains the gateway source for everyone; The Journal and Trib dominate coverage in the state's major media market; the New Mexican is pivotal in the important Capitol City and Media News Group penetrates the fast-growing southern NM market.


I also spent time recently with the national press and Josh Kurtz of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill in D.C. Topic A was how the state corruption scandals are impacting the must-watch ABQ congressional race featuring incumbent GOP Rep. Heather Wilson and Dem challenger Patricia Madrid. You can read all about it, including my analysis, in Kurtz's piece.


Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote in this year’s June 6 primary election.

E-mail your news and comments from the link at the top of the page and come back tomorrow for more New Mexico politics.

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