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Monday, December 31, 2007

Cervantes Blinks; Will Drop Congress Bid; Teague Seen As New Frontrunner; Plus: Foley Gets A Break, And: Benavides is Back; He Joins GOP Senate Race 

Joe Cervantes & Teague
Democrats celebrated the new year early as State Rep. Joe Cervantes told supporters in an email message that he will abandon his bid for the Democratic nomination for the Southern NM US House seat, appearing to clear the field for Hobbs oilman Harry Teague. Cervantes' withdrawal comes on the heels of the decision by ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez not to challenge US Rep. Tom Udall for the open US Senate seat, giving Udall clear sailing for the June primary. That contrasts with the R's who have a hotly contested Senate primary and a free-for-all for the Southern US House seat.

Here is a portion of Cervantes' email:

Dear Friends: This Christmas holiday reminded me of the many blessings in my life, including the most important-family. Spending quiet time with my young daughters...made clear the significance of my role in their daily lives. As a result I will not be filing as a candidate for Congress...I have been blessed by the efforts and support of so many friends...and want to thank all of you for your loyalty and trust...

With Cervantes gone, the field shrinks to Teague, Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley, Al Kissling, who was beat by GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce in '06, and political unknown Frank McKinnon. Pearce is giving up the seat to seek the GOP nod for the open US Senate seat.

Cervantes has not said if he will endorse a candidate, but Teague is the clear beneficiary of Joe's towel throw. We asked veteran Dem consultant and pollster Harry Pavlides who has long experience in the 2nd Congressional District for his latest analysis.

"With Cervantes gone, there is no Hispanic candidate, so this primary is headed Teague's way. Teague should carry Eddy, Chavez, Lea and Otero counties. That's where the big turnout is. Dona Ana will split among the candidates as will most of the Western counties. The turnout in the Northwest is so low it won't make a difference."

Pavlides and others believe if McCamley stays in he has a decent chance of coming out of the March 15th pre-primary convention with at least 20% of the delegates--the number needed to win a spot on the June primary ballot. Kissling is more iffy, but his chances also improve with Cervantes gone. Money is a major factor. Teague has already raised north of $400,000, including $200k of his own cash. He recently told me he "will spend what it takes." McCamley has raised around $200k. Kissling less than 20k. Raising significantly more for them will be a challenge. Will they stay in for the duration?

SUMMING UP CERVANTES

Cervantes blinked after being in the race just six weeks. Insiders pointed to a number of factors.

--As he said in his email, Cervantes, an attorney, has three young children and underestimated the toll a congressional campaign and career takes on family life.

--Teague is ready to spend whatever it takes; Cervantes may have been reluctant to spend his family's ample agricultural wealth on a race that was not a sure thing.

--Lieutenant Governor Denish was not hiding her support of Teague. One of her chief fundraisers, Steve Fitzer, has gone to work for Teague full-time. Teague, a former Lea county commissioner, told me recently he hopes to have Lady Di introduce him at the March 15th pre-primary convention.

--Then there's the numbers. Polling experts have told Cervantes that a primary win is possible, but a Hispanic Dem winning the Southern seat in November is at best a long-shot.

--Was he promised anything and if so by whom? That's always a question that arises when a well-known candidate heads for the exits.

Cervantes signals that he will seek reelection to his Las Cruces area state House seat and he should have little difficulty winning re-election. But it has been a rough stretch for the lawmaker who has been singled out as a possible future state leader. He joined an ill-conceived and unsuccessful coup attempt against House Speaker Ben Lujan last year and as a result lost his Judiciary Committee chairmanship. Now, he has overplayed his hand on the congressional seat. While the public may not remember these events, his future opponents will. Cervantes' statewide political career is far from over, but his withdrawal, like Chavez's before him, signals to the rest of the pack not to step aside just because he is in the hunt.

THE ROAD AHEAD

While the Alligators think Teague should take the primary unless he commits a major blunder, the fall match-up with the Republican is no walk in the park. "Even a Republican party in disarray will be strong. Party loyalty and conservative voters make for a potent punch." Declared Pavlides.

For now, Democrats are gleeful as they look at a crowded GOP field for the Southern seat and see no well-known names. They would like to believe Teague is similar to Harold Runnels, another Democratic oilman who held the Southern seat in the 1970's. With Cervantes out of the race, the bar for Teague is lower, but he still has to prove he can make the jump. Stay tuned.

FOLEY'S BREAK

Hot-blooded Roswell GOP State Rep. Dan Foley received a late Christmas present as a special prosecutor decided there was not enough evidenceto go forward with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges leveled against the lawmaker. Foley, the state House minority whip, was accused of yelling obscenities and otherwise acting up at a basketball game involving his son.

While Foley's legal troubles have abated, his political ones could be on the rise. We broke the news in November that former FBI agent Dennis Kintigh was preparing to run against Foley in the June GOP primary. Insiders say his candidacy is still alive.

BENAVIDES IS BACK

He just goes on and on. Tom Benavides, a longtime former ABQ Dem state senator and a candidate for too many offices to list, is at it again. Tom, who must be in his 70's by now, is circulating petitions to make the ballot for the GOP US Senate race. But if he is to join US Reps Wilson and Pearce on the June primary ballot he will have to score 20% of the delegates at the March pre-primary. That is highly unlikely. But Tom will have fun until then. This isn't the first time that Benavides, known around the state for his distinctive black eye-patch, has sought the Senate seat occupied by Pete Domenici. In 1990, Benavides was the Democratic nominee against Pete, who won with 73% of the vote.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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