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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pete's New Poll Plunge; Survey Shocker Puts Him At Only 41% Approval; Our Complete Coverage, Plus: ABQ Election '07; We're On The Trail For You 

Sen. Domenici
The New Mexican political community gasped for breath Tuesday night as it was taken away from them by the shell shocker contained in the latest Survey USA poll. The approval rating of NM GOP US Senator Pete Domenici has plunged to an historic low of 41%. Say what? You read it right. 41%. Now that you've caught your breath, let's talk.

In his nearly 35 years in the Senate, Domenici has never registered this low in any public opinion poll. His operatives dismiss the survey's accuracy because it is conducted by automatic phone calling. Last night Domenici's office told KOB-TV their poll "verges on the ludicrous" but Pete is not releasing his own polling, and the down trend is unmistakable and well-established.

Domenici began plummeting in March when he hit 57% approval as his involvement with the US attorney scandal was revealed. The 41% comes on the heels of a big anti-Domenici, anti-Iraq war TV ad buy that hit the state's airwaves in August.

It was Domenici "reversal" on the conduct of the no-end-in-sight war that his advisers believed would start resuscitating his poll numbers. But Domenici's July announcement that he was parting ways with Bush on the unpopular war was followed by a series of votes actually supporting the White House policy. Longtime Democratic pollster and consultant Harry Pavlides says the impact has been devastating.

"He said he split with the President, but didn't vote that way. Often times senators can get way with that, but the whole world is watching this issue. The TV ads reinforced his votes for the White House position. The margin of error of this poll is 4.1%, meaning he may be at 45%. But the crucial number for reelection is 50%, and he is definitely below that. He is a wounded bull, but the Democrats still have not come with a heavyweight candidate.

"Pete still has to deal with the Senate Ethics Committee investigation on the US attorney firings. If the Democrats don't take advantage of his weakness they will have blown an historic opportunity to take the Senate seat," said Pavlides.


INSIDE THE NUMBERS

The poll was taken Sept. 14 thru the 16th and represents an 11 point crash from Pete's August approval of 52%. In this month's poll, 54% said they disapprove of the job Domenici is doing, 41% approve and 6% said they were not sure. Only 62% of Republicans approved (that could be low) while 66% of the Dems gave Domenici a negative rating as did 58% of independent voters. At the beginning of the year Pete was at 66% approval. He's been going down like he's on a Taos ski slope.

WHO HAS THE GUTS?

State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón was quick with a news release on the poll, saying it "confirms that Domenici is in serious danger of losing his job when New Mexicans go to the polls next year."

But to whom? The party has two lesser knowns on the field, Don Wiviott and Jim Hannan of Santa Fe, but insiders don't believe they are of the weight class to defeat an even seriously wounded Domenici. The poll immediately rekindled speculation about Big Bill running. If his Prez campaign falters in January and there is still no notable Domenici foe, the Governor will come under enormous pressure to challenge the Senator, according to top Dems.

Dems salivated even as they fretted. Can they wait until early next year for Richardson? If he doesn't want it, will he say so and help flush out a major league contender? And what about ABQ Mayor Chavez who fouled up when he said he never would challenge Domenici? That promise is looking like it could have been written in melted butter. If these numbers hold, he will have to consider backtracking. The Republicans seem to know it, having attacked the ABQ Mayor with a billboard campaign only this month.

MORE EXCLUSIVE ANALYSIS

The Alligators said the US attorney scandal and the unpopular war may not be the only reasons for the Domenici descent. They also sited the possible layoffs at Los Alamos and Sandia Labs, heavy employers of Republicans who have heard Domenici say to prepare for layoffs, instead of pledging that he can pull them out of the fire as he has in the past. Also, at 75, Domenici's frailty is showing and voters may be picking up on it.

What can Pete do to avoid disaster? Start voting against the war? Get some early media out in the mailboxes? What? So far, crossing his fingers and hoping for no strong opponent has done the trick, but how long can that hold with his approval in the cellar?

There will be an absolute feeding frenzy over this poll in the upper ranks of Democratic power in Washington and New York, if not in laid-back New Mexico. The nationals will continue to ramp up the pressure as they try to pressure Domenici to withdraw from the race. Don't rule out the possibility.

For now, call your bookie and have him take down those bets you placed on the 2008 NM Senate race because here in the early fall of 2007, all bets have just been called off.

NM RUDY ROOTERS

Republicans finally get to make a little noise in New Mexico in the 2008 Prez race. They've been more than overshadowed as favorite son Bill Richardson seeks the Dem Prez nod, but Republican Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who raised the flag here for contender Rudy Giuliani a few months ago, will tonight host what appears to be the first formal state function for a 2008 GOP Prez hopeful. White will host a "National House Party" for the former New York Mayor. The event will feature a live Web-cast from the candidate at 6:30 p.m. Those attending won't be hit hard for donations, but the hat will be passed.

BILL BEAT

He's covered everywhere, but we distill it for you. Here's the stuff we need to know on Bill's latest campaign doings.

DAMN THE ALLIGATORS!


City Councilor Don Harris, fresh from a near all-nighter at the ABQ Ethics Board where he was fined $2500 for five campaign finance violations, checked in to disagree with the Alligators who are telling us his chances of losing his recall election are even money or better. " I am going door-to-door and not getting that impression at all. There is no "there" there to this recall," he declared.

Meantime, Harris attorney Doug Antoon weighed in our coverage of the ethics hearing.

"Wow, Joe. That you could report what you did, when the number of alleged violations were about 180, potentially totaling $90,000 in fines, but only resulting in five violations totaling $2,500, is beyond me and those who witnessed the hearing. (Recall advocate) Lowe promised that "fraud would be proven" and that "this would be devastating to Don." Reality check, please."


Wow, Doug. Don was hit with I believe was the largest ethics fine in ABQ history. The council job pays about $10,000 a year, so $2500 is a big deal. That's your reality check. As for proving fraud and whether the hearing was "devastating," we'll leave that up to District Nine voters.

And a final note form Counselor Antoon:

"I knew as a lawyer that we had just watched lemons being turned into lemonade by an Ethics Board that refused to be manipulated by the pressure from the 11th floor of the building we were in. Merciful justice was served," said Antoon in a somewhat poetic mood.

Recall advocate James Lowe, 78, upon hearing of Antoon's comments, quipped: "What kind of marijuana is he smoking?" Lowe maintained the ethics outcome for Harris was as devastating as he predicted, and he said his group would put the ethics board news in a mailer to be dropped into the mailboxes of the district's registered voters this week.

HARRIS SURVIVAL KIT

Meanwhile, Harris has sent out a slick 14 minute DVD explaining what he calls "the hateful" campaign to end his term early. He also sent out an audio CD to make his case. His attorney also poked us for using the term "guilty" in describing Don's ethics violations, saying that word only applies to criminal cases and tribunals. But the chairman of the ethics board, attorney Bob Tinnin, Jr. asked the board members if they found Harris "guilty" or "not guilty" on each charge.

The 11th floor, of course, is where one Martin J. Chavez spends his workdays as Mayor of our beloved River City. Funny how it was a fundraiser put on by Marty for Don Harris in June of '06 that led to many of Harris's finance problems. Marty was trying to make friends with Harris who he did not support in the '05 election. But the kiss and make-up didn't last long. Now, Marty will get to appoint someone to fill out Don's term if voters kick the councilor to the curb next Tuesday.

ALSO ON THE TRAIL...

The Harris recall has been sucking up a lot of the oxygen surrounding Tuesday's ABQ election, but the candidates in the four other council districts are out there on the circuit. Most of them spoke to representatives of the city's development community Tuesday. Notably absent was District Six contender Rey Garduño who seeks to represent the most environmentally active neighborhoods.

Media coverage of the election will heat up in the final days. Over at the ABQ Journal, Dan McKay, the paper's new city hall reporter, but an old newsroom hand, is busy on the campaign trail. Besides the print edition, Dan is posting to his new blog. The ABQ Trib's election watcher, Erik Siemers, will join us Monday at 5 p.m. for our KANW 89.1 FM live Election Eve Special.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments and stop by again soon.


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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