Monday, February 22, 2010

Focus On Domenici: Weak Convention Showing, But Strong Poll, Plus: Harvey's Heartburn: GOP Chair Calls For Cease-Fire As Guv Race Turns Fierce 

Domenici Jr.
Bernalillo County Republicans have thrown up a roadblock in front of the gubernatorial candidacy of Pete Domenici Jr., signaling an even more intense and competitive race for the 2010 Guv nomination. But Domenici's camp downplays their candidate's poor showing at Saturday's county convention where delegates were selected for next month's preprimary convention.

Insiders say it appears former GOP Chairman Allen Weh received the most convention support, followed by ABQ State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones and Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez. Domenici and Doug Turner were seen trailing. Domenici's camp points out he did not get into the race until mid-January and that the other candidates have been out on the hustings for months, organizing for the county conventions. But Domenici carries the baggage of high expectations.

There was his lackluster announcement speech, his unexpected admission of cocaine use in the early 80's and now the poor convention showing in the county where his father built a fabled political career. Taken together, these events have stalled an initial aura of inevitability that may have been forming over the Domenici candidacy.

Because of his last name, Domenici, son of retired Senator Pete Domenici, remains formidable and the early leader. A poll conducted Feb. 9-13 by the class of NMSU poly sci professor Jose Garcia shows Domenici leading the five way GOP race with 29.3 percent. Martinez comes in second with 11.5; Weh is at 7.4; Turner gets 6.8; and Arnold-Jones comes with 2.5 percent. But the big winner was undecided with 43%, showing the still wide-open nature of the race.

The poll was taken before Domenici made news by admitting he used marijuana and cocaine in the late 70's and early 80's. Several of our analysts said that charge is probably going to have to be hammered harder to make a difference, and even then may fall flat among an electorate not easily surprised by such revelations among Baby Boomer candidates.

Weh says the NMSU poll is biased in favor of Martinez, Professors Garcia's hometown favorite. But neither Weh or anyone else in the political community seriously doubts that Domenici is the name ID leader and that's the only thing any poll at this early stage is really going to measure. A Martinez sympathizer comes with perspective on that:

Domenici's numbers are entirely based on superior name recognition (in this case, name ID that has little to do with his own identity) and therefore his numbers are a mile-wide and an inch-deep.

Expect the hits on Domenici to get harder as his foes work to define him before he can get the job done himself. But with absentee voting set to start in just 10 weeks, those hits may soon have to come via the paid airwaves if they are to have the desired effect. Weh's personal money makes him best positioned, but the retired Marine officer may have to pull the trigger sooner than planned and fire more expensive ammo. Turner also has cash but will stay positive and hope the fighting will open a path for him. Martinez is not exactly cash challenged, but neither is she flush. Arnold-Jones has to broaden her appeal statewide. Domenici's financial standing is not yet known. The campaign says it will make monthly disclosures.


Domenici's weekend convention showing reveals he has a lot of hat and no cattle. In other words, not much organization. How far will that famous name carry him? If he unexpectedly failed to score 20 percent of the delegates at the March preprimary and was denied an official spot on the ballot, would his ability to raise money become an issue? (If you don't get the 20 percent, you file additional petition signatures to get on the ballot).

Domenici operatives are playing down the convention process and trying to seize the "outsider" label to attract R voters who don't participate in party activities or campaigns. Can he get enough of them to the polls?

As we've blogged before, not winning that 20 percent would set up a historical challenger for the political newcomer: No candidate has ever won a primary election without getting that magic number. But no one with a name as big as Domenici has ever attempted to overturn history's verdict.

Also, many of the delegates going to the state preprimary are still uncommitted, keeping that 20 percent target well within Pete Jr's sights. And then there's Senator Domenici and former Congresswoman Heather Wilson lurking in the background. That muscle raises expectations that Domenici the Younger will be spared the embarrassment of falling short of getting an official ballot spot. (Yes, we're assuming Heather endorses Pete Jr.).


The Domenici name is now being played up even more. The campaign began with the slogan: Domenici: Governor for a New New Mexico. A new logo they are circulating sports the slogan: Domenici--A Trusted Name in Public Service.

Hey, you go with what you got.

Domenici's bumpy early start has shown that while he has the DNA of a political legend, he didn't inherit the experience. His test on the brightly lit statewide stage of La Politica will ultimately be taken by him not his father. So far, there are more differences than similarities between the two.

GOP Chair Yates
Political junkies like us may be enjoying the internecine GOP warfare, but it is already worrying GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. who is calling on the candidates to cool it. Harvey is getting heartburn over the outbreak of negative campaigning among the five rivals, as revealed in this memo he sent to the Guv hopefuls and obtained by our Alligators:

Our polling suggests that a Republican has an excellent chance of being elected governor. However, this will not happen if the Republican field...is diminished by negative statements aimed by one Republican against another. Further, negative statements are particularly disgusting when they are based on half-truth or sloppy reasoning.

There are many folks who desire that we Republicans win the upcoming election...The possibility of satisfying their desire will be thwarted if overblown candidate egos get in the way of good judgment..If a candidate cannot run his or her race by clearly stating a positive message aimed at enhancing Republican chances in November, rather than diminishing them, that candidate needs to drop out of the gubernatorial race.

Harvey is throwing a Hail Mary if he hopes to get any of these folks to back off now. As he notes, the smell of blood is in the water--Democratic blood--and the feeding frenzy over this coveted nomination is only in the early innings. Still, Harvey's heckling may inhibit the candidates from personal assaults like who wet the bed when they were a kid and who has body piercings on undisclosed locations. Otherwise, this thing is headed into the tar pits.


Democrats are anxiously watching from the sideline this riveting GOP primary battle. Does Domenici's bumpy start give a lift to Allen Weh, the front runner for the nomination before Domenici got in? The D's are wishing for it, believing Weh is the easiest of the GOP entrants to take out in November.

The early scrapping--soon to likely go full-fledged nuclear--is also very welcome to the Dems as Lt. Governor Diane Denish, to be crowned the 2010 Dem Guv nominee, faces enough problems trying to finesse a disastrous legislative session and the special session to come this week. Harvey's greatest fear is Di's greatest hope--a Republican circular firing squad.

Rep. Heinrich
With the change in the political climate, the New Mexico governor's office appears to be more in play for the Republicans than six months ago, but what about the ABQ congressional race? Given that climate change should one also expect a closer contest between Dem incumbent Martin Heinrich and GOP challenger Jon Barela? Perhaps. But national political handicapper Stu Rothenberg doesn't even list the ABQ contest among the 74 House races he sees as being in play in 2010.

When Republican Heather Wilson held the seat, the race was always listed as a race to watch. But the district's registration is majority Democrat. Now that the Dems have one of their own in the seat after a 40 year drought, it may be more difficult for Barela and the R's to assemble the old coalition of D's and R's that kept the seat in their column. Heinrich not making any major screw-ups isn't helping them either.


From GOP land commission candidate Spiro Vassilopoulos:

Spiro didn’t shorten his last name to make life easier and he won’t short-change the State of New Mexico...

From former NM GOP Governor Dave Cargo on the race between the five current GOP Guv candidates:

They are fighting it out for last place!

From KKOB-AM radio political reporter Peter St. Cyr:

Geez, the GOP candidates are going to go negative to pull even with Domenici. That will use up financial resources in the primary. Will the R's have time to reload to battle Denish's millions in the general?


That bill we blogged about that would have moved state funds out of the big national banks and into local ones and that drew national media attention to Dem Santa Fe State Rep. Brian Egolf never did make it out of the Legislature. It had passed the House, but died in the Senate.

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