Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Developments in Dendahl Saga: Top Sources Here And In D.C. Detail GOP "Movida;" Domenici's Fingerprints? It's One Hot Blog 

Sen. Domenici
How did New Mexico come to have its first appointed major party nominee for the office of Governor in modern history? What was the role of New Mexico's most senior Republican, Senator Pete Domenici? And what were the real motivations behind the move to dump J.R. Damron and replace him with outspoken former GOP chair John Dendahl?

Working top sources, both Democratic and Republican, in Washington, D.C. and in our Enchanted Land, I have answers that may be as surprising as the last minute replacement of Damron. History will have to tell the tale in its totality, but the following is the best information available from operatives at the upper most reaches of political power.


Grumbling about the lack of aggressiveness by Damron began before the R's March pre-primary convention. The Treasurer scandal and news stories popping up hitting the administration of Big Bill were not being touched by the Santa Fe radiologist. Top party figures urged him to start hitting and he said he would. But as the campaign wore on it became clear that he could not or would not. He alluded to this in a statement after bowing out saying the party needed a more aggressive approach.

Among those urging more aggression, according to top sources, was Senator Domenici and his chief of staff Steve Bell. "The intensity over J.R. began several weeks ago and that's when the idea of putting up Dendahl first surfaced," said one of those sources.

"This was a Domenici-Steve Bell operation, plain and simple," asserted a Republican with years of experience in GOP politics.

Domenici and Dendahl at one point had a stressful relationship. The senator called on the then party chair to resign because of his pro-drug legalization position. Monday Domenici told a news conference with NM radio reporters, "We had differences many years ago, but I almost look at him as a new candidate, a new breath of fresh air in the Republican Party...That's how I see it now," declared Domenici.

"It's not the Republican National Committee that is so concerned about the Governor's race. Pete is. He wants to rough up Bill for several reasons, not the least of which is to reestablish himself as the go-to guy in New Mexico. Richardson has dominated the scene and Domenici and his operatives have tired of it." Offered a Washington R.


In that news conference (complete audio here) from the national capital Monday, Senator Domenici also said of the Dendahl candidacy, "Like most Republicans I was very shocked by what happened." However, he added, "it did seem to me that the former candidate, J.R. Damron, was rather quiet and did not campaign much."

The high risk strategy of letting Dendahl take on the Governor was apparently based in the logic that he would rough up Richardson sufficiently to make him damaged goods for any presidential bid, weaken him if a presidential bid did not work out next year and he contemplated running against Domenici in 08', or if Domenici for health reasons or others would be unable to make the 08' race. That could set up a duel with ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Big Bill. Domenici is seen as determined not to let his seat pass to Richardson.

"The Dendahl move covers all the bases, but you can't emphasize enough the rivalry for top status in New Mexico politics. That has been Pete's role, but this Governor has in many ways eased him into the shadows," offered another tapped-in and reliable source.

What about the theory that Domenici was caught off guard and simply signed on to a coup engineered by Dendahl? "That is very, very unlikely. (GOP Chair Allen) Weh is responsive to the senator. There's no way this move would have occurred without the permission and complicity of Domenici." The source responded.


What about the Wilson angle? Many observers feel Dendahl's controversial positions on legalizing drugs and other matters could hurt the incumbent lawmaker in her battle with Dem Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

"Pete feels Madrid is weighed down with so much ethical baggage that Wilson is really not in danger. He has said as much. They would not have gone for John if they felt otherwise. Heather probably sees danger for her with Dendahl, but with him battling Richardson it could serve to take the Governor's focus off of her." Said our source.

Several sources pointed out that Wilson has tried to warm up to Richardson in the past few years, but the overtures have been rejected and he is fully committed to helping Madrid, another reason she could use to justify a Dendahl bid.


Through the years Domenici has proven expert at keeping his fingerprints undetectable on sensitive political moves. Sometimes the tea leaves can be misread as they were last year when it appeared he was behind the ABQ mayoral effort of R Brad Winter, but in the end did not pull the trigger for Winter.

But the details reported above are circulating in circles not prone to misinterpretation or error, and it all adds up. It even seems to this blogger that parties to the coup want the details out. History will have the final word on the bizarre machinations of this campaign, but at this point it appears it will record that it was certain Republicans in 2006 who adopted the age-old "Movida" that has been identified with the Democrats and their forebears.

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