Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pete & Pearce; The Waiting Game Begins; Domenici Re-Elect Plans Pondered; Pearce Starts Positioning; What About Heather? 

Rep. Steve Pearce
Speculation is intensifying about the 2008 re-election plans of NM GOP Senator Pete Domenici in the wake of the voter revolution that has put Domenici and the R's in the minority and ousted Pete from his powerful chairmanship of the energy committee. The latest development came on national television Sunday on the NBC Chris Matthews Show, where one of the correspondents claimed Domenici was one of several GOP senators who won't be seeking re-election in 08'. Experts see little chance of the R's reclaiming the senate in 08' because many more R's than D's will be defending their seats. Domenici's office did not issue any statement in response to the comments about his future made on the national broadcast. He has said in a fundraising letter this year he plans on seeking re-election, but has not made a formal declaration.

Among those watching Domenici developments most closely is southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce who insiders say is ready to go for Pete's seat, if Pete is a no-go. They also report that Pearce will take a serious look at the NM governor's race in 2010 if Pete decides to go for another six years in the senate in 08'.

The Alligators and odds-makers now put Pearce in the frontrunners slot to take the GOP 08' senate nomination if Domenici steps aside. They say GOP ABQ Rep. Heather Wilson is badly wounded by her near defeat at the hands of Dem Patricia Madrid. Even though she did well among Republicans, Pearce is seen as the more true-blue conservative, especially appealing to primary voters. Also, there is the whole anointing thing with Senator Pete who picked her for the congressional seat in 98.' Anointing someone when you are on the exit path is a whole other matter.

"Pearce would likely have an easier time getting the nomination than Heather. He is popular in the rural areas and can come into Albuquerque and sell himself more easily than Heather can go into the outlying areas," analyzed one Alligator and citing an old axiom of NM politics that goes back generations.

Pearce's hand is also strengthened by his second landslide re-election victory. He took his third two year term last week by getting 60% of the vote, the same margin he received n 2004 when he beat Dem Gary King. His predecessor in the seat, Joe Skeen, managed 58% in 2000. Meanwhile, Heather was still struggling to be named the official winner as provisional vote-counting continued in her tight race. And the timing is difficult: putting together a statewide campaign in the aftermath of a cliffhanger that had the blood gushing from her political arteries.

Pearce, safe with his fellow R's, has signaled a slight softening in his ultraconservative image; an image that could hurt him in a statewide race. His recent conciliatory statement on Iraq, seeking a bipartisan solution, is seen as perhaps the start of a more moderate approach that could help him crack into the vote heavy Mid-Rio Grande Valley. The congressman, a former state legislator from Hobbs, is also going after a leadership role in the House. If successful, it will help to keep his profile high even as he, like Heather, slips into the role of backbencher.

On the downside, Pearce's critics argue the lawmaker is too dry--even dour--and does not really connect, especially via television. Pearce, they say, comes across as a strict disciplinarian, not a happy politico ready to ask for the vote. They point to his high staff turnover as evidence that he is demanding to work for and say that trait and the other negatives could be to his detriment in a high-profile U.S. senate battle. On the other hand, many of Wilson's critics say she has almost the same problems as Pearce.


As for Wilson, she has been anointed by Domenici as his heir apparent, but if Pete does not run in 08' and she does, the Dems would have a good shot of picking up her House seat. With her weak re-elect, she may now feel increased pressure to stay in the House and out of a testy primary battle with Pearce.

The best case scenario for Wilson is that Domenici does make the run, leaving the 59 year old Pearce to seek the governor's chair in 2010 or continue to win re-election to his House seat. At 45, Wilson would be poised to wait Pete out, as long as she can hang on to her House seat which after this election is no longer a certainty.

And then there are all the Democrats who would be lining up if Pete were to decline a re-elect bid. We'll get to them another time. For now, the smart money is divided on just what Domenici will do. If he sours on being a backbencher this late in his career, he could very well throw in the towel. Even without that circumstance, there is the health issue. Insiders believe any Domenici re-elect decision can't be finalized until the beginning of 2008, saying he will assess things at that point.

Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson may have big plans, but it is the plans of Domenici that matter most. They may have a lot of waiting in store.


The math is daunting and it's unlikely Patricia Madrid will be able to overcome it as the final 3,700 or so provisional ballots are tallied in her race against GOP Rep. Heather Wilson. Even if the provisionals are accepted at a much higher rate than the 50% that made it in the 04' election, Madrid will need major mojo. For example, say 3,000 of those votes stay in--a high rate--the attorney general would need to win 75% of them to surpass Wilson's 1,487 vote lead.

Dems know that, but think the provisionals will be heavily Democratic and hope they will shrink Heather's lead to less than 500 setting up a recount. Such recounts rarely change election outcomes, but if it is within 500 or so, it would be a worth a shot.

A combination of paid and volunteer workers are being used to count the remaining ballots in Bernalillo county. The final count is expected sometime this week.

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