Friday, January 26, 2007

Domenici Addresses Touchy Health Issue As Net Site Lists his Ailments, Plus: Popularity Of NM Politicos Ranked 

The office of NM GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was put in the spotlight this week regarding the touchy subject of the health of the political legend, but in a rare comment on the matter they indicated Pete's health will not be an impediment as he seeks an unprecedented seventh six year term in 2008.

"The senator, in my view, is in better health than he was three years ago," said Matt Letourneau, a Domenici spokesman, pointing out that his boss no longer uses the motorized cart that he had several years ago.

The spokesman made his comments to the new Internet site, The Politico, which tackled the tough issue of the health of several other elderly U.S. Senators. In doing so, they revealed this about Domenici:

"Until his retirement last month, former majority leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a noted heart surgeon, was being consulted for informal medical advice by two dozen of his colleagues -- more than 20 percent of the Senate, according to a former leadership aide. They went to Frist complaining about a host of illnesses and chronic maladies, most related to aging. Among them were Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who flew on Frist's jet for private consultation and treatment at the Frist Clinic in Nashville, according to Senate sources.

Although more than a decade younger than Byrd, Domenici, 74, also suffers from a variety of ailments -- and not quietly, according to fellow senators. Domenici was one of those who leaned heavily on Frist for medical advice, insiders say.

"He has undergone two surgeries for a nerve problem, has bursitis in his hips, and suffers from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal cord that can be painful. He has hearing aids in both ears, forcing him to lean in very close to someone when having a conversation, and he moves slowly and deliberately when taking the floor for votes, stopping often to lean against a wall or desk for rest or to steady himself.

"He can appear disheveled at times. Domenici wore a suit with a large tear in the coat one day recently, and in early December, after being seen ambling through the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building in a pair of hunting pants that resembled pajamas, Domenici aides scrambled to quash a rumor that the lawmaker was not as mentally acute as he had been.

"And with last week's announcement that Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., will retire, GOP leaders need Domenici to stay more than ever. Domenici's advisers and Republican strategists portray him as hale and hearty, and suggest any buzz that Domenici's problems will force him to step down is nothing more than a Democratic plot to drive him from office." So reported The Politico.


While they are raising questions about Pete's health on the banks of the Potomac, out here in River City his political health is looking pretty good. Phone calls and inquires to top political operatives in the Democratic party turned up no--we repeat--no--serious challenges yet in the making to the powerful Domenici.

Some weighed in that talk of Governor Big Bill fielding an opponent against Pete could turn out to be bluster, and noted the Senator's diplomatic comments regarding Richardson's entrance into the Dem Prez race. Another operative told me, "there is a hole in the Democratic party when it comes to challenging Domenici or (ABQ) GOP Congresswoman) Heather Wilson in 2008."

The young politicos who could make a name for themselves or position themselves for the future by running a vigorous, but probably losing campaign against Domenici have yet to surface. Many of them are more interested in state offices. One wild card for Pete, besides health--he will be 76 when he runs in '08--is the no-end-in-sight-Iraq war. If the conflict is still raging at he end of this year, it could spur the Democrats to get a candidate on the field.

A Domenici even in poor health, which is not a given, is still seen as a major asset to the state as his seniority is invaluable in protecting a small state's interests. The fact that significant opposition is not arising amid the whirl of reports about health concerns is a testament to the political strength he has built since his first election in '72, and it also reveals a Democratic Party that even under Big Bill is not firing on all cylinders.


With all the publicity he has received of late, it's no surprise that Big Bill comes out on top in the latest popularity rankings of the state's top politicos. Here is the latest approval ratings from Survey USA: Richardson: 68%-29 Domenici: 64%-27, Senator Bingaman: 66-24, President Bush (in NM): 38%-60

This is it. The home of New Mexico politics. Pass us along to your interested friends. We're at www.joemonahan.com--and drop me an email with your latest news and comments from the top of the page.

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