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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dem Congress Race Could Get Hotter Than A Bowl Of Red; Homans Answers Heinrich; All But Declares, Plus: Big Bill's Role, And: Even More Candidates? 

Rick Homans
New Mexico Democrats moved even closer Tuesday to a hotly contested '08 primary for the right to take on ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, with state Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans declaring "a primary is not a bad thing to have" and adding that he will have a final decision on a run "in the next month." No one expects that decision to be a no-go, and that means a likely primary battle with ABQ City Councilor Martin Heinrich who all but declared his candidacy here this week, setting the D's up for a spirited primary and another epic General Election battle with Wilson as she fights to retain the seat she has held since 1998.

The Democrats have gone from famine to feast in a hurry. As the U.S. Attorney scandal poured out on the nation's front pages, nervous Dems fretted that they had no candidate on the field to take advantage of Heather's disadvantage. Now they have at least two, neither of them lightweights.

As we near the starting gate the Alligator consensus is that Heinrich, 35, may be the stronger Democratic primary candidate because of his appeal to liberal voters concerned with the Iraq war and who have extra strength in such contests, but that Homans could have an advantage in a November face-off with Wilson because of his appeal to conservative D's who are key to victory. But most Democrats were not bemoaning the entry of either man, pleased as they were that they will have a credible '08 candidate with a chance to pull off the upset.

There was concern expressed at the watering holes and lunch spots where the political herd gathers. It was over Governor Big Bill and whether he would play Big Foot and openly endorse Homans who he named to his cabinet. Unlike Heinrich, Homans has a personal relationship with the Guv.

"Let them fight it out. People will know where the Governor stands without a direct statement. A primary will be good for us because both Homans and Heinrich will build name ID from it and they will need it against Heather. If Bill goes public for Homans, it could make the race about the Governor, not getting rid of Heather," said one of the Gators monitoring the action.

Others brought up the 1998 GOP scenario when Senator Pete Domenici hand-picked Wilson for the GOP nomination in the aftermath of the death of Congressman Schiff and in the process dissed several prominent Republican candidates and creating a rift that has lasted to this day. If Bill wants to play patrĂ³n, there's no stopping him, but analysts pointed out the Democratic party is unlike the R's and is less prone to taking their orders from the top down.

HOMANS VS. HEINRICH
Martin Heinrich
Homans said if he runs he will be moving back to ABQ after living in Santa Fe the past several years. He pointed out he has long ABQ ties, including running a business here. He dismissed initial reports that he would wait as long as January to make a decision, realizing this race is now on the launch pad and ready for lift off.

Like Heinrich, Homans, 50, has two children, one is 18 and off to college; the other is 13 years old. Heinrich's children are pre-teen. His wife works for the Mid Region Council of Governments in ABQ as a Project Manager. Both men have state jobs. Attorney General King will likely be asked to make the call on how long the duo can retain those jobs while seeking the congressional seat.

As far as money, Homans noted his fund-raising ability, while correcting our number on what he spent on his '01 race for ABQ mayor--he said it was $500,000 not, $750,000. He also claimed his poor showing in that contest (fifth in a field of seven) was because the amount of money he raised and his court challenge to strike down spending limits became the central concerns, not his agenda. Heinrich is new to the money game, having raised cash only for his city council race.

LUNCH WITH THE GATORS

After Homans rang me up, I headed to lunch with some ABQ South Valley Alligators at the Barelas Coffee House. Guess who pops up? Why, none other than Martin Heinrich. When you're a political junkie you just seem to catch the vibe on the big ones. While I nibbled on a juicy chicken taco plate with hot red on the side, Heinrich dished up the news that he and Homans had been on the phone that very morning; that both were respectful of each others candidacy and that neither was backing off. He said the pair will have a power powwow on Friday to discuss the campaign to come. Heinrich added that he thought a formal endorsement of Rick by Big Bill "might backfire." He agreed that it would be understood in the inner circles that Richardson was in Homans' corner even if there was no formal announcement.

THE FOUR-H CLUB?

Could there be even more candidates coming into this race? What about the Hispanic factor? Those were the questions dangling over the enchiladas with an egg on top that one of the Alligators was devouring. "Joe, we could have a Four-H Club--Heather, Heinrich, Homans and a Hispanic," He said with a smile as Alligators are prone to do when contemplating a hunt.

The Hispanic factor is indeed key. Anglos Homans and Heinrich will have to work it hard, perhaps stacking their staffs with native sons and daughters as neither are NM natives. (Neither is Heather.) This will be a must-watch angle as the race develops. We have not had an Anglo Dem nominee for the 1st CD seat since 2000.

EVEN MORE HOPEFULS?

Will there be even more candidates vying for the nomination? It doesn't seem likely, but Terry Brunner, state director for Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, are both scheduled to meet with a rep from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) this week as is Homans and Heinrich, according to insiders. The DCCC will not officially endorse a candidate in a contested primary, but could steer money from powerful groups to their favorite. Brunner has expressed interest in the race, but not as much as Homans and Heinrich. Brandenburg has told associates she wants to seek a third term as DA in '08, not run for Congress. And why not? She ran unopposed in 2004, and it could happen again.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Democrats in the ABQ congressional district, have a nearly 40 year old losing record and the repeated successes of Wilson are keeping a lid on any euphoria over the emergence of able contenders. But this is about more than political positioning. With the American nation stuck at at a crossroads over the no-end-in-sight Iraq war, the people of the 1st congressional district apparently will get the vigorous debate they deserve, argued by capable contenders from both major parties. Soon, it will be time to get it on...

The AP is busting Big Bill again on a big campaign donor and legislation he signed that benefits them. The campaign is issuing a very familiar statement...Here's some better news for the Guv from his North Korea mission...Senator Pete announces he has raised $500,000 for his re-elect on his way to a goal of $6 million. His staff hopes the money-raising will quiet talk that he won't seek re-election. We agree he is seeking re-election--today. The issue is whether Domenici's health will permit him to go all the way, or if he will recoil if an especially prominent foe emerges, or what he will do if the U.S. Attorney scandal explodes anew. No amount of money will make that speculation go away.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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