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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Poll Shows Political Damage For Pete, Plus: Dems Continue Head-Hunting Heather, And: Legislature Update And More 

Domenici
The first signs of the political damage being caused by the U.S. attorney scandal to New Mexico's venerable senior senator have emerged in March 12 Survey USA poll, showing Domenici, for the first time ever in the poll, seeing his approval level drop below the 60% mark. That's down from a 64% approval rating in mid-February in USA (MOE +-4%). According to the poll, Pete wins approval of 57% of the electorate, but his performance is disapproved by 35%. The U.S. attorney scandal has been headline news in NM since Feb. 28 when then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias conducted a news conference. Fifty-seven per cent approval would be fine for most politicians, but Domenici is not any politician. As a headline in the Santa Fe Reporter recently put it, "the saint is tainted."

The political pros would have liked to have a different survey. The USA poll, done for KOB-TV, uses automatic phone calling and does not screen who picks up the phone. But it is a general indicator of the trend, and right now the trend is not Pete's friend. The survey shows Domenici suffering a considerable drop-off in female support. Whether this poll and others to come encourage some notable Dems to weigh a race against the Senator who is seeking a seventh six year term next year remains to be seen. Another question hanging heavy in the air is what political damage is being done to GOP ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson who won her race last year by less than 900 votes.

PURSUING HEATHER

If the national Dems can find the time to cut radio ads attacking Heather Wilson for her role in the U.S. Attorney scandal, (airing in morning drive on 770 KKOB-AM) why can't they get a member of the U.S. House to file a formal complaint against here to get an official ethics investigation going? Such a complaint is required in the House, unlike the Senate where a "preliminary inquiry" of Domenici is underway by the Senate Ethics Committee. I asked a veteran Dem political operative to give us the lowdown.

"The Democrats are feasting on the news cycle. This story has legs that keep growing. They probably feel they should come with the complaint when everything calms down and they need to rekindle the fires. I do believe the complaint will come," assessed our Dem operative.

That could be, but some Dems remain nervous as Heather has had a streak of serendipity her entire rough and tumble political career. She is also playing hardball on this, repeatedly saying her controversial October phone call to Iglesias was "entirely appropriate." He says it was an effort by her to speed up indictments in a federal corruption case.

Also, it is Senator Domenici absorbing most of the political damage thus far as the news concentrates on the communications he and his staff made with Justice and the White House about getting rid of Iglesias. So far, no Heather e-mails have surfaced, the operative theory being that Domenici carried water for her in their joint effort to oust the prosecutor.

But with the scandal exploding daily, there remains that pesky question that puts state Democrats on the defensive. Where's your candidate? One by one they are mentioned and one by one they drop like flies. The Democratic party here says it is not their responsibility to recruit a candidate, and they are living up to that statement. How about if we give it a fresh stab?

THE NOMINEES ARE...
Isaac Benton
How about ABQ City Councilor Isaac Benton? He has shown himself to be a calm and involved councilor, is a successful architect, and at 56 is not too old for the task. An added bonus: Benton speaks fluent Spanish and was elected in a traditionally Hispanic district. He doesn't have to run for re-election until '09, so he could take a risk-free run at Heather. He calls the prospect "interesting."

The first candidate we came up with was former NM Land Commissioner Ray Powell, Jr. who, like Benton, mused about it, but did not jump at the idea. Democrats, though, have reason to be jumpy. Wilson is an accomplished campaigner and they will need a first-tier candidate to take her on, scandal or no scandal.

If Heather ever did give up the ABQ congressional seat, there are plenty of Republicans lined up to replace her. Names like Sheriff Darren White, State Rep. Justine Fox-Young and PR guru Doug Turner, to mention just a few. Of course, the Dems might not have as tough a time recruiting as they are if it were an open seat. The most likely scenario for a vacancy is Domenici deciding to retire and Heather going for the Senate gold.

THE COMING SHOWDOWN

The subpoenas are authorized, and the showdown between Congress and the White House looms.

HALF-BAKED SESSION

Here's the latest from the AP on the half-baked special session of the NM Legislature. The House has the ovens on, but they remain dark in the Senate. Things will heat up all over the Roundhouse come Saturday when the Senate, by law, will be forced back into session. Big Bill returns from the prez trail Thursday, and he responded Wednesday to his critics: "Some Republicans made similar complaints before the regular session – that Governor Richardson could not simultaneously be a strong chief executive and run for President. Yet they were forced to admit when the session concluded that it was among the most productive in state history. This special session can be equally productive, if legislators focus on the work at hand.”

WHO'S SMOKING WHAT?

Some emailers said we were smoking the funny stuff in regard to our Tuesday blog of Wilson and Domenici's opposition to the re-election Sunday of Bernalillo county GOP Chairman Fernando C de Baca. But we think it's them toking too much of the dream weed. How about Heather directly telling the wife of C de Baca that she was not supporting Fernando? When asked why not, a reliable source said she quipped: "It's a free country."

As for Pearce and Heather not caring who chairs the county or state parties, that is downright hallucinatory. Of course, they care. Of course, they face a possible competition for an open senate seat. Of course, they could end up fighting for a Senate vacancy before the GOP central committee. And, of course, the Alligators have it right...again. Don't say we didn't tell you and remember, our agenda is to serve you, not the factions.

News, comments, political gossip? Send it our way via the email link at the top of the page. We're interested in all of it.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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