Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Pete's Maiden Media Trip; How Did He Do? Also: My Experts Analysis Of His Guv Chances, And: R's Start Filling Other Races, Plus: We're Riding The Rail
Pete Domenici Jr. had a frog in his throat and let out a loud cough seconds after being introduced Tuesday at his major media debut of Campaign 2010, but after a bout of initial nervousness he seemed to find his footing and obeyed the #1 rule of a political front runner--do yourself no harm.
The 50 year old attorney, scion of famous US Senator Pete Domenici, bantered for two hours with 770 KKOB-AM radio host Jim Villanucci and a variety of callers to the conservative 50,000 watt talker.
Domenici was a lawyer through and through. He was cautious, conservative and given to pauses that were rapidly filled by Villanucci who did his best to help along the political novice with the inherited celebrity status.
Domenici Jr. breezed through the contemporary conservative issue check list, but he put out some moderate twists that had him looking past the June 1 primary and to an eventual face-off for the Governor's chair with presumed Dem nominee Diane Denish.
The most interesting was when he demurred on condemning the issuance of drivers licenses' to undocumented immigrants. New Mexico is one of a handful of states with such a law. He said he wanted to study a "two-tier" system that would deny such licenses' to some, but not all immigrants. Like his death penalty position--he is for it when a law enforcement officer is killed, but not necessarily for other murders--this license position would tilt the New Mexican Republican Party in a more moderate direction just like Pete's dear old dad did in his heyday.
Domenici made no obvious faux pas, but he did admit to not having voted in the recent ABQ city election. He said if he had voted he would have cast his ballot for Republican RJ Berry because he knows him personally.
TOP ANALYSTS ANALYZE
The first test for Domenici and his four Republican rivals for the nomination comes in March at the pre-primary convention where you must secure 20 percent of the delegates to get an official spot on the June 1st primary ballot. Domenici is expected to be among those to pass that test, but we wanted to make sure our dubbing him the new GOP front runner was indeed justified, so we checked with some of our veteran analysts for their thoughts on his first major media appearance. We intentionally went to Democrats to avoid a GOP partisan bias and hopefully get a clear eyed view of what is now an exciting GOP Guv contest.
Longtime Democrat and pollster Harry Pavlides, whose first campaign work was for 1966 Democratic Guv nominee Gene Lusk, described Domenici as "lawyerly" and said "he answered the questions effectively."
He showed he is not a fly-by-night candidate, that he can sit in the hot seat. He is the favorite, but not yet the prohibitive favorite. He has more hills to climb. ButI am becoming more concerned about the political climate for Denish. I think Domenici is the likely nominee and John Sanchez is positioned to win the lieutenant governor nomination. That's a pretty solid combination. The Hispanic vote in the north with that ticket looks more problematic for Diane.
We also asked talk radio pioneer and veteran politico Mike Santullo for analysis. The first New Mexico political campaign he covered was the 1972 US Senate race in which Pete Domenici beat Democrat Jack Daniels, the father of current Lt. Governor Diane Denish. Mike came with this:
Domenici is the definite favorite for the GOP nomination. His name insures that, but he has not closed the deal. He needs more salt on his tail and needs to pump it up. His appearance was lackluster, to the point of boring. But these are issues that are more relevant for the general election. I still see Allen Weh as a threat and am watching to see if Doug Turner's outsider campaign starts to come on.
PAIN FOR JANICE
GOP analysts tell us that ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold Jones has been hurt most by Domenici's entrance into the race this month. Democrat Pavlides said he still sees the candidacy of Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez as having life because she is the only outside of ABQ candidate, but he is perplexed over how she ultimately manages to beat Domenici.
Domenici the Younger reminded the audience of his father's popularity in rural New Mexico, saying when he visits towns where his dad's reputation precedes him "they treat me like a celebrity."
A Martinez operative came with an amusing analysis of Domenici’s maiden radio interview that echoed Santullo. It was one line: “Zzzzzzzzz.”
Oh yeah, now they got us wanting more.
MUDDYING UP PETE
Domenici is an environmental lawyer and when he announced his candidacy the Dems immediately accused him of being a friend of "big polluters." He tried to soften that up by pointing out that he has sued insurance companies to make sure pollution sites were cleaned up. But the Dems environmental attack dominated a good section of the broadcast and if Pete Jr. is the nominee, we would expect to hear more of that as well as any help he achieved in receiving federal contracts from his once powerful father.
The more callous Alligators called Domenici's radio debut an "idiot test," meaning a lot of people who knew nothing about him--except that he had a famous father--wanted to know if he had the brains to make the run. Domenici easily jumped that low bar, but his foes will make sure the bar is set much higher as we inch ever closer to that crucial mid-March pre-primary.
There had to be some chuckles when a radio spot for GOP Guv candidate Doug Turner popped up in one of the commercial breaks during Domenici's first radio appearance. The candidate also posted the ad on his Web site.
Expectations for Turner have been low--very low--because insider R's think he is too moderate to appeal to the conservative dominated pre-primary delegation, but Turner's persistence, his many billboards that dot the ABQ area and his continued travels are giving insiders pause. They also note the environment is similar to 1994 when Turner worked for Gary Johnson who won the Guv trophy on a throw the bums out message.
Johnson made the official ballot at the '94 pre-primary by one delegate vote, but he went on to win. Turner is truly a man who hopes that kind of history repeats itself.
DOWN THE BALLOT
The R's are finally starting to fill out the down-ballot races with the February 9 filing date now rapidly approaching. They announced Tuesday that Errol Chavez, 60, will give up his bid for state land commissioner and instead seek to become the GOP nominee for state auditor. The Dona Ana County resident, a retired DEA agent, is expected to be the only GOP auditor contender which means he would face off with Dem incumbent Hector Balderas in November.
And Santa Fe attorney Marco Gonzales, a former Senator Domenci aide, will be the R's pick for secretary of state. No R has won the position in 80 years, but getting a Northern New Mexican on the ballot could help the R's keep down their losing margins in that heavy Dem area. Gonzales, 42, a litigator with the Modrall Law Firm, lost his bid to become the R's nominee for the northern congressional seat which was won by Dem Ben Ray Lujan in 2008.
New Mexico politics has these fascinating intersections, and Gonzales gave us another when we chatted him up via cell phone. He said his father, Jose Gonzales, is the brother of George Gonzales who is the father of NM Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales. That makes for some interesting family reunions.
Incumbent Dem Secretary of State Mary Herrera will face off in November against Gonzales. She has promised to have a Web site that improves campaign finance reporting up and running by the June primary. The Gonzales candidacy may put a little pressure on her to step on the gas, even though no R has won the SOS position since 1928. Still, with the Massachusetts Senate upset still fresh in the air, no incumbent is taking anything for granted these days.
BLOG BILLBOARD BATTLE
Looks like we started a blog billboard war in that already spirited contest for the southern NM US House seat featuring Dem incumbent Rep. Harry Teague and former GOP Rep. Steve Pearce. Not that we ever intend to stir controversy :).
Anyway, it started innocently enough when we ran into Teague in Santa Fe last week and joked with him about putting up a billboard in conservative Hobbs promoting himself with his liberal leaders--House Speaker Pelosi and President You-Know-Who. So what happens? The National Republican Congressional Committee makes up a mock billboard of the trio and sends it it to us to further rib Harry.
Now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also reading the blog from D.C., turns the tables and blogs in with its own altered billboard image--posted here today--that features Pearce with his old allies--George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tom Delay. It blames them for the economic downturn that the R's are trying to pin on Harry. Here's their spin:
With Pearce’s reckless fiscal record, including growth of the federal deficit by $2.3 trillion and support for the economic policies that got us into this mess in the first place, it’s no surprise Pearce and his Republican friends are trying to change the subject.
We're digging this sparring, but what keeps us up at night is that someone comes with a poll showing one of these candidates blowing the other out of the water and killing the campaign buzz. Please politicos, no public polling on the Teague-Pearce until at least July--unless its really, really tight. We've got a blog war to run around here.
RIDING THE RAILS
Let's take another ride on the Rail Runner today after yesterday's blog that analyzed the political risks for the Dems that the financially troubled commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe poses. Reader Marc South in Alamogordo picks up the story:
Joe, you said: "The shocking news that the commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe is only generating about 13 percent of its revenue from passenger fares only deepened the anxiety."
Why is this shocking? If you look at public transportation across the country (especially if you exclude NY/Boston/DC/Philadelphia) 10%-15% of revenue through the fare box isn't unusual. It's not unheard of for transit systems to occasionally address the question: "Is it worth collecting fares? Do we collect more than it costs to collect them?" Generally, the answer is yes, it is worth collecting the fares, mostly because charging something prevents abuse of the service.
But I wasn't here when the RR was first proposed and approved. Was it bandied about that the amount of funds generated by the fare box would pay significantly more than 15%? Someone should have done their research...
And what about our former legislator's suggestion that the Rail Runner be privatized? Well, reader Bob White informs:
The former legislator's comments about the need for private management are a little off target...The conductors and collectors are in fact employees of Herzog Transit Services. I agree with his observations with the staff on the trains, but it was not always that way. When the service first started the staff were generally older, and much more professional in performance. As they have hired younger staff, the performance has deteriorated. I have no issue with privatization, but it cannot be assumed it will solve every problem. The history of private corrections in NM is living proof of that...
And a longtime blog friend, Diane Albert, an intellectual property lawyer and Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico President, comes with this take on the public subsidies needed to keep the Rail Runner chugging:
Let's make I-25 between Santa Fe and ABQ a toll road. Because as a bicycle commuter, I am tired of subsidizing those motor vehicles on the highways who do not pay their way!
Sounds as if you better be in shape if you're traveling anywhere with Diane.
THE BOTTOM LINES
Glad to have you with us today. Join me here Thursday for news on the Bernalillo County Sheriff's race and more.
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This is the home of New Mexico politics and chronicling it from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.
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