Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On The Bingaman Beat: It's The Quiet Campaign As He Shoots For Term #5, Plus: High Times In Heather-Patsy Battle, And: My Tuesday Bottom Lines 

Sen. Bingaman
Jeff Bingaman's tortoise-like crawl to become New Mexico's second longest serving U.S. senator in state history continues uninterrupted and it's about as exciting to watch as paint dry. But Bingaman has not been taking the prospect of a fifth, six year term for granted. He spent the August break touring conservative rural NM where any threat to his re-elect would first arise, and now he's topped it off with a series of regional radio spots aimed specifically at local issues.

Bingaman is working to nail down a group of voters who left unattended can be very dangerous to a Democrat. 04' Prez contender John Kerry did fine in NM cities, but the White House strategy of galvanizing rural NM put President Bush over the top. Heavy statewide TV and direct mail will complete his over $3.5 million plus campaign.

Bingaman turns 63 on October 3 and will surpass Senator Clinton Anderson and take #2 on the all-time NM senate service list if, as expected, he gets the nod Nov. 7. (Sen. Domenici is first.) Some insiders point to his 62% re-elect in 2000 and think he will again lead the NM Dem ticket with a similar victory. He was also the top Dem vote-getter in this year's June primary, even outpolling Mr. Organization himself, Governor Big Bill.

His GOP foe, Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington, has yet to mount a broad-based campaign, although he has stepped up his attacks. McCulloch's only hope to put the race in play is to tap his family's oil and gas fortune, but with Bingaman so far ahead in the polls, is it worth it?

McCulloch asserts that Bingaman spouts a "radical left-wing" agenda. While Bingaman is indeed a lifelong liberal, repeated efforts over the years to paint him as a danger to the Republic have faltered. The accusations come up against a politician with a low-key, approachable personality, a track record for delivering federal funds to this heavily government-dependent state and not overly involving himself in the emotional issues of the day. Day-to-day finds him concentrating on bringing home the bacon and honing expertise on important if mundane issues like water and renewable energy.

Dr. McCulloch
Are voters being deceived by Bingaman, as McCulloch implies? It's hard to see how, as his voting record is out there. It is easy to understand GOP frustration. Bingaman was one of the few senators to vote against the resolution authorizing the Iraq war and continues to draw high approval ratings from groups such as the ACLU. But New Mexicans are an independent minded lot and seem to see a lot of themselves in Bingaman. For example, the senator has displeased liberal backers by voting for a tougher personal bankruptcy law and signing on to an energy bill that provided tax breaks to Big Oil. He is also known for being studious and showing up for work. An added bonus for Bingaman in this scandal-plagued year is his reputation for integrity.

His opponents point out that he comes with the baggage of long-term incumbency and is beholden to the special interests. As the senior Democratic member of the Energy Committee, Bingaman now ranks #7 out of 535 members of Congress in the amount of oil and gas money his campaign has received. (ABQ GOP U.S. Rep. Wilson ranks 20th.) Also, Bingaman's power ranking of 44 out of 100 is too low, they argue, for a senator with his length of service and that it is Domenici who is doing the heavy lifting for the state. And there is the simple argument that 24 years is enough for anyone.

Bingaman's congressional career is characterized by opponents as pedestrian, but it has been punctuated by flashes of true independence and even bravery, as evidenced by his lonely vote against the Iraq war; a vote that history may judge as one of the defining moments of his service.

But Bingaman is not yet concerned with what history says, but what the voters again say. However, if history is any guide, six more years on the banks of the Potomac are very likely for the senator who honors the tortoise as the hares come and go.


You've got to hand it to NM GOP executive director Marta Kramer. Without even a hint of irony, she unloaded on Dem congressional candidate Patsy Madrid after Sunday's debate between Madrid and GOP Rep. Heather Wilson:

“I was startled to hear our Attorney General laughing off illegal drug use. Madrid has set a terrible example for our children." Declared Marta.

But hold on. Wasn't it Republican Governor Gary Johnson who proposed considering legalizing heroin and cocaine and then revised it down to marijuana? Didn't GOP Guv candidate John Dendahl openly split with GOP Senator Pete Domenici over the legalized drug issue when Dendahl was party chair and backed Johnson on drugs?. And doesn't the drug issue still haunt GOP intra-party politics as seen when Dendahl said he did not want his position on drugs to be a campaign issue this year?

By saying she was "a child of the 60's" Madrid indicated she experimented with drugs. By way of contrast, Gary Johnson admitted in campaign 94' that in his youth he was a frequent cocaine user. He won in a landslide. The R's have plenty of ammo against Patsy and company, but the drug issue? That's what they call the big stretch.

And what about Heather toking up? Never touched the stuff, she says. And you just gotta believe her. Heather with a bong? You would have to be stoned to see it. But forget about the candidates getting high. What about Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico? Don't they need an escape from reality as they are bombarded day and night with negative 30 second TV ads? Somebody call Governor Gary. Maybe he can help out.


It's difficult tracking just when the national congressional committees will come with their onslaught of TV ads in the Madrid-Wilson race. One of the Alligators checking for us says he has confirmed a $530,000 buy from the national Dems for Patsy on CBS affiliate KRQE-TV and sister station KASA-TV; a buy that he says is scheduled to start today. And he reports an even biggger buy for Heather on those same stations from the national R's, reporting that they plan to spend over $1 million with a start date of Sept. 29. Keep in mind these figures do not include the other two major network affiliates.

TV buys are subject to change depending on polling and cash flow, but we are so close now to early voting that hard decisions have to be made. Also, the national money could conceivably be used to promote other NM races. But no one expects anything but all-Patsy-all-Heather-all-the-time...

Veteran ABQ writer Gene Grant blogs in with a correction on our coverage of the Madrid-Wilson Sunday face-off. He notes that Madrid's statement: (paraphrased) "Is that supposed to be the line that kills my campaign?" did not come, as we blogged and our early morning readers saw, in response to Wilson's question about the Rev. Al Sharpton, but to a question about drug use. TV coverage we heard seemed to indicate otherwise...It's not too early to remind you of our Election Night Coverage on KANW 89.1 FM in ABQ/Santa Fe. It will be our 19th consecutive year of anchoring wall-to-wall coverage for public radio, so be sure to join me and our political all-stars for all the action.

Thanks to Gene for the correction and to all my readers in New Mexico and across the nation who contribute here. We are the home of Campaign 06', featuring the best analysts, breaking news and the most fun. And we do it in our signature style--non-partisan and independent. Best of all, it's free!

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