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Friday, January 04, 2008

OH!BAMA! Big Night For Barack But Not For Big Bill; 2% Showing Imperils Guv's Candidacy, Also: Huckabee Hailed, And: Chavez Challenges Term Limits 

For Barack Obama it is the beginning. For Bill Richardson it is the beginning of the end. He promised to shock the world in Iowa, and he did, but for all the wrong reasons. His 2% distant fourth place finish had the Alligators starting the countdown clock on when the NM Governor would pull the plug on what appears to be a fatally wounded campaign. The Guv announced he will gamely go on to New Hampshire because he finished in "The Final Four." There's no point in pulling out since that state votes on Tuesday, but veteran NM pollster Brian Sanderoff told me in a post-caucus, post-mortem not to expect much to change.

"He should do better than 2% in New Hampshire, but this Iowa showing is not going to help momentum. It is unlikely his polls (now at about 5% in the Granite State) will show any upward movement. If he is a distant fourth in New Hampshire, there is little reason to expect anything would improve after that."


The Iowa results set the stage for Bill's final act. He told supporters in Des Moines last night that from now on his campaign will be all about ending the war in Iraq, but his strong anti-war position did nothing for him in Iowa and there is no reason to believe that will change as he heads East.

"He lives to fight another day, but there's nothing but desert in front of him," declared pollster and Dem consultant Harry Pavlides. He said one consolation is that Richardson will get to appear in the big Saturday night presidential TV debate, owing to his fourth place finish. That will give him a chance to throw a Hail Mary and try to get back in this thing.

Richardson barely inched by fifth place finisher Joe Biden who registered 1% and announced his withdrawal from the race as did Senator Dodd who finished last. KRQE-TV reported from Des Moines on the Guv's mood.

A BITTER PILL

The Governor's defeat was as bitter as the winter cold of Iowa; it was his first election loss in 28 years. In 1980, he was felled by NM GOP US Rep. Manuel Lujan in what was Bill's first political outing. The Governor, 60, has spent months courting the hard-to-get Iowa Democrats, but never came with a clear message they could latch onto and was passed by the superstar group of Obama, Clinton and Edwards.

The seeds of defeat were sown long ago, in a disastrous "Meet the Press" appearance that infected the national media and blogosphere and which he had difficulty turning around because of lackluster performances in the numerous TV debates. The modern form of campaigning simply did not suit Richardson's demeanor or personality. He is an in-person politician, not an on-camera one.

But the trouble was even deeper. His first wave of TV ads were clever, presenting in an entertaining way Richardson's lengthy resume, but the campaign appeared to be stuck after that, insisting on an experience theme in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Iowa Dems wanted change--major change-- from the politics of the past. In fairness, Hillary Clinton seemed to make the same mistake, faulting Obama's inexperience and seeing the argument fail like a rubber-tipped arrow fired into steel. Richardson's answer was to become the most fervent anti-war advocate this side of Dennis Kucinich, but it did little to separate him from the other candidates who were also firmly against the war, just not as adamantly as the Governor, who also had authenticity issues because of his past support of the unpopular conflict.

HARD TO SPIN THIS ONE

There's not many ways to spin a 2% showing, but the Guv's supporters did their best. They pointed out that Richardson had support of 7% of caucus-goers in the network entrance poll, but he fell to 2% in the final tally because of the complicated rules. Those rules state that a candidate must have 15% support at a precinct caucus or they get no delegates. If they do not have the 15% on the first vote, their supporters go to another candidate or go home. So it's true Richardson had more than 2% in the first half of the game, but it's the final score that counts, and he and his campaign knew that going in.

In a bizarre Election Day development, news quickly spread that Richardson had cut a deal with the Obama campaign that had Richardson's campaign urging its supporters to make Obama their second choice if Bill failed on the first vote to reach the 15% level at their precincts. Richardson flatly denied the deal in network news interviews, but sources in Iowa confirmed that campaign staff had urged them to go for Obama as second choice.

The move was apparently meant to hurt John Edwards who Richardson hoped to replace in the third place position. It played out like one of those debate gaffes that plagued the Guv the past year.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Only a miracle can turn it around now. If there is not a big bounce up in New Hampshire, there will be no money to go on to Super Duper Tuesday February 5th, which includes the NM caucus. He would like to stay in and collect some delegates to take to the national convention, including New Mexico's, but he can't risk being marginalized and treated like a freak candidate.

What seems more relevant than trying to stay in for three more weeks is who Richardson should endorse, if anyone, for the Dem nomination. Was his Iowa Election Day maneuvering with Obama a signal of things to come?

A dignified withdrawal after one last go at it in New Hampshire would seem to best serve the
Governor's interests and his supporters who are already hurting enough after last night's trouncing. He can be proud of his tenacious and untiring efforts over the past year. There is no reason to turn justifiable pride into embarrassment.

HUCK'S LUCK

Mike Huckabee won the GOP Iowa caucus going away, slapping down Mitt Romney by nine points 34% to 25%. New Mexico R's watched intently, but the state's GOP prez primary is not until June and the race will very likely be decided by then. Veteran NM R Bruce Donisthorpe said the Huckabee victory shows "the natives are restless. There is a large cadre of Republicans unhappy with the party's current foreign and economic policies. This vote shows it."

Southern NM congressional candidate Bob Cornelius, former executive director of the Bernalillo County GOP, said not many Republicans are taking sides here. "Right now they can wait and see and avoid offending anyone." He said.

CHAVEZ TO CHALLENGE LIMITS

ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez told KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson Thursday he will challenge the term limits that restrict him from seeking another term in 2009, but the mayor said that doesn't mean if he gets the two term limit rule overturned in court, he will necessarily seek re-election.

"After the end of this term I may say I am going to ride off into the sunset and do something else at this point in my career, but at the same time that may not be the decision. I want to make sure everything is clear to what the options are." Chavez said.

And another politico is going to make a legal challenge. Northern Dem US House candidate Don Wiviott will go to court to challenge the requirement that a candidate get 20% of the vote at their party's March pre-primary convention in order to win a spot on the June primary ballot, and he's asking other contenders to support his move.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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