Thursday, September 28, 2006

Now It's Personal: Big Bill Says Madrid Will Win & He Will Get The Vote Out For Her, Plus: Dendahl Says "Major" Radio Buy Coming, But Not TV 

Big Bill
Declaring that Democrats are starting to come home, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is telling the national press and pundits that Attorney General Patricia Madrid will make history and score a "narrow victory" over ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson for the ABQ U.S. House seat. Big Bill says a "Democratic wave" will be responsible. Going all in and making this one personal, he says "my get out the vote operation" will be the other reason for what would be a stunning upset in the district that has been in Republican hands since its creation in 1968.

One could write off some of this as bravado; Dem spin in an effort to fire up the troops. But his thesis is getting backing from one of the nation's influential political pundits. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report tells the Hill newspaper that the Wilson-Madrid race is now "the most competitive" one for the U.S House of Representatives in the USA.

Late Wednesday Democratic pollster Harry Pavlides, polling for a statewide candidate, reported he also surveyed the 1st CD and reports that his 388 interviews show the race a "dead heat," with Madrid having a one point lead. (Margin of error + or-5%.) This Sunday the ABQ Journal, whose late August poll showed Wilson with a three point advantage, will release its latest independent numbers.

(I will have a special blog Sunday with excerpts of my interview with Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. Monday I will bring in my 1st CD specialists, including Pavlides, Republican Bruce Donisthorpe and field specialist Steve Cabiedes.)

Pavlides took his poll Sunday thru Wednesday. He said Wilson's problem is not among Republicans--she is still getting over 80% of them--but with Democrats in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque where he says some Dems who normally vote with the GOP Congresswoman are going into the Madrid column. He said the battleground precincts in the Mid-Heights were essentially tied.


The Guv made his bold prediction at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in D.C., but the news roared quickly back to New Mexico as politicos seized on his comment that it would be his operation that will make a Madrid win possible. That sets him up to take credit for a victory that would boost his national standing as he pursues the 08' Dem Prez nomination.

But the Governor's crystal ball is not perfect. He also predicted a narrow victory for Dem Prez Hopeful John Kerry in NM In 04', but it was Bush who eked out the narrow win, despite Big Bill putting his prestige and political power on the line. Maybe the Guv figures if he is wrong on this one, it will fade quickly from memory like the Kerry loss. But this is different. This one is La Politica, and if Madrid fails, Richardson will now be seen in many quarters as a father of the defeat as well as any victory.

Still, there is consensus among top political analysts here and in Washington that Madrid has survived the initial wave of attacks on her ethics and has even picked up some votes. There is still eons to go--over five weeks--but the psychology has now changed, and in politics that cannot be underestimated. Political pros who could not bring themselves to utter the phrase, "Heather could lose," are now saying it out loud.

Clearly, the campaign for this seat, one that could possibly decide the future control of the United States government, has reached an inflection point this week. Wilson has not been able to stop the smell of blood from spreading, but she has been able to stop the electorate from seeing actual blood in the water.That is essential as the Democratic voter registration edge is significant and if they get too roused, Wilson will see the value of her congressional pension check shrivel.


Heather's dilemmas is the unpopular Iraq war and President. She refused to alter her position on the conflict when it was least politically risky; a change now could lessen opposition, helping hold any tidal wave at bay, but it might also set off a political firestorm that ends her political career, puts Madrid in the congress and aids Big Bill's national position. Not exactly a low-stakes poker game,is it?

Focusing on the issue of national security could lessen the impact of the war question.

As for Madrid, who tangled repeatedly with Big Bill early in his term, she is now obviously pleased he is all in with her, but this campaign is not really about her. And that, of course, is Wilson's problem. As we write, the campaign has become nationalized; the only scenario under which the seat could turn. Madrid is a bystander to history. She will be quiet and raise money and let her media and her and Big Bill's extensive ground operation do their thing. If this race stands where it appears to, Wilson is the one facing a campaign filled with critical decisions.


With calendars set to turn to the do-or-die month of October, the Democrats have an historic opportunity to take the seat, but the R's have history on their side.


While Wilson organizes for her final, fateful push, her party's GOP Governor nominee confirmed Wednesday that campaign fundraising has been a severe challenge. John Dendahl told 770 KKOB-AM radio that the has put together enough money to launch a " major radio buy," but critical TV spots may or may not come. In that regard, he could only describe his campaign as "hopeful."

He continued to tear into Big Bill calling him a "vengeful, ruthless man" who has people across the state "scared to death.'

But it is many Republicans who are scared that Dendahl's inflammatory and controversial candidacy is repressing GOP enthusiasm and threatens to keep some of them home, not only inflating Big Bill's margin, but severely wounding Wilson.


More money for Legislators? We said Wednesday we were skeptical of the argument from Big Bill's ethics panel that giving the lawmakers more cash would improve their ethics. Matt Brix, executive director of NM Common Cause and a member of the commission, blogs in with a different take:

"Current statute is very vague on what campaign contributions can and cannot be used for. Our recommendation is that new legislation be introduced to specify that campaign contributions shall not be used for official duties (mailers to constituents during non-campaign cycles, office expense, etc.). In exchange, our proposal is to allow legislators to draw upon an expense account, up to $10,000 annually. This way, it's all above board and we can head off any real or perceived abuses in the use of campaign funds."

Brix also points out that while the ethics panel wants the treasurer appointed by the Governor with state senate confirmation, the auditor would be appointed either by the Legislature or an "independent commission." We argued to keep the posts elected, but Brix says appointment of the positions would guarantee better qualified officials.

Well, at least we are arguing about the ethics problem, and not denying it.

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