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Friday, October 30, 2009

Goodbye, Heather: Final 2010 GOP Guv Field Is Set As Wilson Passes; The Impact And Latest Guv Race Analysis, Plus: Campbell Over Top In City CAO Vote? 

Goodbye, Heather
The 2010 New Mexico race for Governor sprung a big flat tire when former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson announced she would not seek her party's nomination, and it remains to be seen whether the four Republican candidates on the field can reflate this campaign and make it a marquee event.

It wasn't what you'd call a stunner. Wilson, who turns 49 in December, has now established a life outside of politics, but her Thursday decision will likely be remembered as a race-shaping event. Top Democrats feared her the most. They now see former GOP Chairman Allen Weh as the strongest GOP primary candidate, but the weakest for the general election against presumed Democratic nominee Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

Veteran politico Steve Cabiedes, who is now managing the Dem Light Guv campaign of State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, put it this way:

This announcement settles down the political landscape. It gets more mundane without Wilson and mundane is good for Denish.

Wilson's departure signals the start of an intense intra-party feud for the state's minority party. Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, trying to position herself as the alternative to Weh, reacted immediately to the Wilson news by arguing it is she who is the most electable against a potent Denish:

I am the one candidate seeking the Republican Party's nomination who can build the necessary coalition to compete and win next fall. I have a proven track record of bringing people together and winning tough elections in a county where Republicans are outnumbered nearly three to one.


But Martinez is not necessarily the default anti-Weh candidate. ABQ PR executive Doug Turner has loaned himself considerable money and if he shows a willingness to spend it his eclectic message that appeals to what is left of the center of the GOP could catch fire.

Like Turner, ABQ GOP State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones will not join Martinez in challenging Weh for the committed conservatives. Janice's immediate challenge is raising enough money to establish credibility. Heather's departure may ease that some because potential donors can no longer say they are waiting on her.

The problem for all the anti-Weh wannabes is the composition of the Republican Party. It is dominated by Anglo, conservative men. This is a byproduct of its sharp turn to the right under the presidency of Bush and the chairmanship of Weh.

The irony for Weh is that the diminishing of the party he presided over--epic Governor and US Senate losses and fewer numbers in the Legislature--actually positions him nicely for the GOP nomination, but it could spell doom for him if he faces Denish.

DI'S DANCE
Diane Denish
Don't expect to see any tricky moves on the political dance floor from the Light Guv. She won't be a wallflower, but without Heather competing for attention, she will fill her dance card with slow waltzes. No tangos for Di.

She did only some subdued two-stepping during the recent legislative session and her immediate challenge will be to get through what promises to be a very bloody January session in which the mountainous state budget will have to be confronted. But it will be Big Bill's budget--not hers--as long as he still around. In fact, post-session we wouldn't be surprised to see Di start to separate herself some from the boss, but not much until after the June primary.

With no serious challengers for the Dem nomination on her left or right, Denish can parade right up the middle. That's the sweet spot in New Mexico. Until the June primary is over, Republicans are going to be too busy fighting among themselves to move her off of it.

The danger for Denish and the hope for the R's is the state of the economy. There is much material to be mined there and itchy independent-minded voters are open to persuasion. Also, who knows what other shoes will drop from Big Bill that could shake Di's tree?

MORE WILSON IMPACT

One of the beneficiaries of Heather's decision is southern Dem Congressman Harry Teague. He already has a premier Republican opponent in former US Rep. Steve Pearce. If Heather was joining Steve on the ticket, it could further excite the GOP base. But if Denish is leading in the polls next summer, that could dampen some of the R enthusiasm and benefit Teague. Perhaps not much, but with Teague's race looking so close, every little bit helps.

EVEN MORE IMPACT


Denish just added some muscle and we'll all be watching to see how it's used. For example, that crowded race for the Dem nomination for lieutenant governor suddenly looks less threatening for her. Will she be more prone to push in a certain direction?

WHAT PRICE VICTORY?


For Wilson, the decision not to run is likely her swan song. She will now recede into private life which she said she finds satisfying, not to mention financially lucrative. She makes plenty as a national security consultant.

This was her best and perhaps last chance for statewide political office. Her name ID will now diminish as will her stature in the Republican Party. New faces, like that of ABQ Mayor-elect Berry, are already emerging. She would have an outside shot at running for the US Senate seat held by Jeff Bingaman, but only if Bingaman retires in 2012. Today that seems unlikely. She has ruled out a run for her old congressional seat now held by Dem Martin Heinrich.

Political life has not been a bed of roses for Heather. Even as other congressional reps coasted to easy re-election wins, she never had that luxury. The governor's race would have been another long, bitter and uphill struggle. She must have mused--for what? She would get to Santa Fe with no money to spend and fight for four years with a Democratic Legislature. There were simply more rewarding things to do.

If this is indeed the end game for Wilson, she will be remembered in history as a tenacious and effective political campaigner, but her political record lacks permanence. Both Wilson and her mentor--former Senator Pete Domenici--self-described moderates--chose not to move the state GOP in a truly moderate direction that may have prevented its collapse. They fully embraced the Bush presidency and for that they and their party paid deeply, as witnessed by the total D dominance of the congressional delegation and Santa Fe.

CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE

Wilson's exit from the brightly lit stage of La Politica comes as New Mexico decouples somewhat from the national security and military establishments that boosted the R's to prominence in the post World War II era. Budgets for Sandia and Los Alamos national labs have stagnated. The military bases remain robust, but perhaps not quite as much. These institutions brought thousands of outsiders to the state who tilted the political equation.

It was telling that Wilson, an Air Force veteran, pointed out in her announcement that the governorship does not have a national security role. That's her true love and where she was always most effective. Being Governor of New Mexico in 2011 and beyond will mean leading the state in rebuilding the private sector of the economy, or possibly overseeing the downsizing of state aspirations. That's an elegiac prospect and far from the comfort zone of Heather Wilson.

CAMPBELL OVER TOP?

The ABQ Journal's Dan McKay has the fresh nose count on that intense behind-the-scenes-battle by ABQ Mayor-elect Berry to win city council confirmation of attorney David Campbell as his chief administrative officer. He reports that it appears Campbell now has the needed five votes--Dem councilors Sanchez, Benton and O'Malley and R councilors Harris and Jones. In a second article, the Journal reports it appears Campbell has six votes which means they are now putting Rey Garduno in the "yes" column.

Campbell is a Democrat and if he is rejected, the D's could get a real Republican. They may figure it is best to stick with him.

If this vote holds, it is good news for the mayor-to-be, but not good enough. He will want a better than 6 to 3 vote on the city's second most powerful post to kick-off his new administration. We would expect him to keep the heat on to pop those numbers.

As things stand, it is members of Berry's own Republican Party--Councilors Cook, Winter and Lewis--who are weakening the new executive. They are now asking Campbell for certain financial disclosures. Maybe if they get them it will be the hook they use to back off their opposition?

The Campbell battle is another example of how divided the shrunken Republican Party remains. They experience their first significant victory in months by taking over the mayor's office and winning a majority on the council for the first time in nearly 25 years, yet they seem to be trying to give it away.

Good luck, RJ. You're going to need it.

THE BOTTOM LINES


Here's the Journal follow to the story we broke a while back on Roswell GOP State Senator "Lightning Rod" Adair speeding at 118 mph in Guadalupe County. He has entered a no contest plea, and he said he did not want to discuss why he was going so fast...Executives at CDR, the bond firm that got so much attention here in a federal grand jury probe and cost Big Bill a cabinet job with Obama, have been indicted in New York on charges of bid-rigging in a muni bond scheme. For a time, it appeared Bill and some of his top aides could end up indicted for biz deals CDR with NM, but the investigation here ended with no charges...

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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