Monday, January 29, 2007

Are You Ready For This? First Poll Out In 2010 Dem Guv Battle, Plus: Bad News For Bill's Prez Bid, And: A Bitter Dendahl Exits State; Read Our Comment 

I don't know if we're ready for 2008, never mind 2010, but ambition that has been bottled up since Big Bill Richardson took over the territory is starting to come uncorked and spill onto the coveted stage of La Politica. The latest example is a poll conducted by the state's #2 showing her trouncing her prospective 2010 Dem Guv primary rival, ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez by a whopping 18 points. The survey was done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research which also does Big Bill's surveys and shows Light Guv Diane Denish getting 56% support of Dem primary voters with Marty lagging with just 38%. (You can go here and click on download for the full poll.)

There is a method to this early madness. The competition for campaign funds is more intense than ever, causing the earliest start ever to a New Mexico Guv campaign. While no one is expecting any candidate to spend the $13.5 million Big Bill did in last year's election, insiders place the price tag for the '10 primary and general at least in the $5 million area. It was that reality that spurred Lady Di to announce her candidacy earlier this month and Marty to follow with his own announcement.

Denish and Chavez have fought over money before. In '98 Marty was the Dem Guv nominee with Diane at his side as the lieutenant governor contender. The two were soundly beaten by incumbent GOP Guv Gary Johnson, and the Alligators report the two Dems ended their political date together bickering over, among other things, campaign money.

Denish will try to use her poll (606 likely Dem voters. Jan. 15-18. MOE + or-4%) to quash any early enthusiasm for Marty's candidacy, especially among big financial donors. The poll will be difficult for Team Chavez to dismiss as Di has won the Dem Light Guv nomination three times, has been twice elected to the job, and has raised her profile with travel throughout the state and by presiding over the state Senate. The mayor remains popular in ABQ, but persuading the rest of the state that anyone from the Big Duke City is not to be looked upon with suspicion is always a challenge. Also, he has the memory of a scorching loss in '98 of Bernalillo county by some 20,000 votes. He was a popular ex-mayor then, but it didn't rub off when voters considered him for the promotion.

Also hindering Chavez is the specter of Denish's personal wealth. She has independently raised $1 million so far and while she is not prone to opening her own wallet, she could. Those making initial bets on who to give money to know it. Another early trouble sign for the mayor is the polls finding that he runs 10 points behind Denish with Hispanic voters--52% to 42%.

Still, Chavez is not to be underestimated. His historic 2005 third term mayoral win and his ability to command press attention, along with a successful fund raising record, means he will likely be a threat to the finish. There's also the prospect of more candidates joining the fray which could shake-up the race.

Its hard to picture Governor Richardson as a lame-duck, but with Denish and Chavez out of the gate so early, I think I see at least a bandage on one of those webbed feet.


It has received little coverage in NM, but recent machinations by several big population states to move their Dem Prez primaries up to early February could be the beginning of a death squeeze on the candidacies of lesser known Prez contenders, including New Mexico's favorite son. How will he muster the multi-millions to compete in so many early states? Even an early win in Nevada may not give him time enough to take advantage of any momentum under the likely new calender. The change could also start choking off funds for the lesser knowns as the money mavens start thinking it will indeed be a top tier candidate who will take the big prize.

John Dendahl
He is going out the same way he came in--slashing and burning. And therein lies the success and failure of a New Mexico political figure who generated acres of newsprint, rebuilt a downtrodden Republican party only to help burn it to the ground and finished his controversial career by losing the governorship by the largest margin in state history. We speak, of course, of John Dendahl, who gave his swan song to the state Saturday by faulting the people of New Mexico for the problem of political corruption and seemingly exonerating himself.

As he prepared to leave his native state for a move to the Denver area to be near family, the 68 year old Dendahl lashed out at Governor Richardson who in November made him an asterisk in the history books. "(Richardson) has expanded what I think is corrupt conduct in government in New Mexico and people of New Mexico have accepted it."

Dendahl managed a meager 31 percent of the vote in November. He is apparently contending that the 69 percent who voted against him were hoodwinked and gave aide and comfort to the corruption that has long haunted the state. But Dendahl's resounding rejection by the electorate was born in the first trimester of his candidacy when he made a series of embarrassing and ill-informed statements. And the manner in which he became the GOP nominee was itself held out as an example of the corruption that the old warrior inveighed against as he looked toward Colorado and a retirement of reflection.

Fellow Republicans who battled Dendahl through the years were not neglectful of his departure, with former GOP chairman Lattauzio, ex-State Rep Greg Payne and Bruce Donisthorpe among those forming the escort committee to the Colorado border. "The spiritual leader of a very dark side of our party is gone. It could very well strengthen the middle at the expense of the extreme," chimed in Donisthorpe. The obvious glee in Democratic quarters needs no reporting.


As party chair in the 90's Dendahl's bullying tactics earned him a reputation as an "attack dog," but he led the R's on an impressive run, adding GOP seats to the Legislature and helping to twice elect a GOP Governor. But then Dendahl joined with Governor Johnson to support the legalization of drugs. Republican lobbyists joined in and the party was bitterly divided, creating a rift that extends to this day. Or, as Payne puts it: "Drugs did to the Republican party what they do to every family." In the end, the party that Dendahl authored, as well as the national party in Washington, held power for the sake of power and the distribution of favors to a clique of lobbyists and consultants. The voters have made them both pay a price.

A new generation of Republicans, many watching in disdain from the sidelines as their small party tore itself apart, may be awakened by the news of Dendahl's exit and join those working to broaden its appeal, thereby providing a strong check on the party in power and inhibit the corruption that so vexed Dendahl in his valedictory. Surely it is a roadmap for current GOP Chairman Allen Weh as he seeks re-election to another term.

It is a twisted arrogance that leads a politician to blame the people for the woeful performance of their government. It is the politicians who are given immense power and responsibility to carry out the will of those they govern. Failure or success is judged at the polls. John Dendahl certainly won't be the last politician who deflects harsh public judgment by curling up in a cocoon of bitterness. But one man's journey, as filled with pathos as it may be, is only a speck on the big picture continuously painted over the course of over two centuries. In America, it is the people who tell truth to power.

Hasta la vista, John.

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