Monday, July 09, 2007

Pete's Retreat: Will It Pop His Polls? Expert Analysis Is Up Next, Plus: No Women On Roundhouse Power List; Why Not? 

Pete Domenici
It wasn't only ear-piercing fireworks that roused Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico from their holiday hammocks over the Fourth. It was a clap of political thunder from NM GOP US Senator Pete Domenici that momentarily stopped the turning of the pages of the summer novels, the beach balls from bouncing and those hammocks from swaying. You see, Pete was doing some summer reading of his own--of the latest polls--prompting his own Declaration of Independence from the White House on the no-end-in-sight Iraq war. The big switch was not unexpected as other prominent Republican senators had already begun paving the path, but how many voters will affix their John Hancocks to Pete's new principles as he seeks re-election in 2008 is nowhere near as clear as the spectacular colors that decorated the skies of Independence Day week.

Pete picked the low lying fruit early. His Thursday announcement that it was time for a change in Iraq strategy, but not an immediate troop withdrawal, had the liberal editorial pages of the Santa Fe New Mexican and the ABQ Tribune gushingly welcoming the Senator aboard the anti-war bandwagon, even if they had to wait over four years. However, that praise was offset by the burning he received ("defeatist" Pete, they howled) on the right-wing blogs, still stubbornly stuck to a war policy that has the Bush presidency at historic polling lows, and the nation at the end of its rope over a war sending rivers of civilian blood streaming through the streets, not to mention escalating American casualties. On the left, there was also no love for Pete, with the thrust there being that his statement amounted to a "feel-good facade."


Domenici's recent descent to an anemic approval rating of 51% in the Survey USA poll was haughtily dismissed by his office as not meriting comment, but insiders had little doubt that the Senator now sees it the way anyone who ever took a Poly Sci 101 class does--he has been slip sliding away as the burdens of the Iraq war, his role in the US attorney scandal and questions about his age and vigor placed him in more political peril since he faced his bid for a second term against Toney Anaya back in '78.

But, so far, the 2008 race has no Toney, leaving it to NM Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón to deliver the body blows over Pete's retreat, perhaps firing up the partisans, but also exposing the glaring absence of a first-tier challenger to the 75 year old Domenici. The ranks of the state Democratic party are filled with the ambitious, but also the timid. It's that character defect that could yet be their and Colón's undoing when it comes to ousting New Mexico's longest-ever serving member of Congress.

An aging and weakened Domenici is working to resuscitate himself and has the stage to himself to do so. Three Dem political unknowns have announced candidacies. Democratic critics cry that if their party is so morally outraged by the war, where is their commitment of cash and a brand-name candidate to take on Pete? Dem defenders retort that time is on their side; that the pressure on Pete is taking its toll and that he could voluntarily step aside. And, as readers here are aware, others point to Big Bill as their secret weapon, that he could ride to the rescue and take on Domenici when his Prez campaign concludes.

As Domenici moves to put points on the board while he has the court to himself, he is far from out of the woods. If his brain trust thinks a press statement alone will quiet the waters over the war, they will be disappointed. The Senator's Iraq follow-up votes will be the most closely watched of his career. By staking out a new and more politically popular position on Iraq, Domenici may benefit in the polls, but he also assumes more responsibility for ending the war. If we remain mired there by Independence Day 2008, it could be Pete hearing a loud clap of political thunder and a 51% approval looking like a high-water mark.


Domenici did his best to avoid hurting the Bush White House too much with his newfound Iraq position. He made the announcement during one of the slowest watched news weeks of the year, and he did it in ABQ away from the lenses of the national press. The news landed on the front pages of the big papers, but was much less noticed than the widely covered breaks of GOP Senators Lugar and Voinovich a week earlier. Meantime, even more GOP senators are starting to crack after getting a face full of constituent war wrath over the holiday break.


We received a batch of email in reaction to our Thursday blog in which a Senior Alligator gave his top ten power players of all time--or at least since WWII--in the NM Legislature. We'll dip into the mailbag during the coming week, and start out with this from Terri-Nikole Baca, Prez of the Bernalillo County Young Dems, who comments: "Surely there is room for a couple of women up there, too..."

All of the top ten were indeed men, but with few women serving in the Legislature until the 80's, that's no surprise. Women are now ascending to leadership roles in the House and Senate so power lists of the future may see a gender breakthrough, but for now there are no obvious female nominees to the post WWII legislative power player list.


Whatever you do, don't let ABQ Mayor Marty or the city council see this article, unless you really like those red light cameras...

Politicos are talking about this profile piece of Johnny Cope of Hobbs, NM that hit the streets Sunday. Cope is a major friend of Big Bill (and Light Guv Denish) who has operated mostly under the radar, until now.

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