Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heather's Hope: Dem Primary Fight Seen Benefitting The Wounded Incumbent; A Circular Firing Squad? Plus: Latest NM Bush Ratings And Big Bill's, Too 

Rep. Wilson
"When Democrats form a firing squad they do it in a circle." That quote from our e-mail box sums up the thinking among the state's political elite as they weigh in on this summer's fast breaking developments in the Democratic primary contest for the ABQ congressional seat held since '98 by 46 year old Republican Heather Wilson.

Dem party leaders are putting a brave public face on the prospect of an intra-party bloodletting, but strategists without a dog in the fight are unified in their belief that a contested Democratic primary to decide who will challenge Wilson in '08 is a break for the congresswoman and another setback for the D's who have been unable to win the majority Democratic district since its creation nearly forty years ago.

The Democrats had their hearts broken when Patricia Madrid lost to Wilson by less than 900 votes last year, but they also had a chance to build on that near win by fielding another well-known challenger. Instead, there are three relative unknowns--ABQ City Councilor Martin Heinrich, politico Bryon Paez and attorney Jon Adams.

Republicans sense an opening.

"Wilson's people are overjoyed about the prospect of a crowded Democratic primary field. Wilson can keep her head down and keep raising piles of cash while the Democrats spend it all on each other." E-mails in one Alligator in contact with the Wilson camp.


Shadowing the D's in their 1st CD primary is the ethnic factor. Dem analysts fear a bitter contest between Henrich and Paez could divide the party along racial lines, leaving the loser's supporters unenthused and a wounded winner vulnerable to Wilson's inevitable attacks.

Party sources confirm that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a key player in the race, shares the discontent over the ABQ developments. "They wanted one candidate everyone could unite behind. That's the usual recipe for success, not a fight among ourselves," informed a Democrat familiar with DCCC thinking.

There is also the issue of money. Cash spent on fighting for the nomination is cash not spent going after Heather. Also, because the candidates thus far are unknowns they could inflict permanent damage on each other if the campaign gets nasty. And when was the last time any election around here didn't go that route?


Bryon Paez
After Wilson's close call last year her operatives were quick to dismiss it as a fluke from which she would recover, arguing she had been tested by the fire but survived. But soon the US attorney scandal broke and public opinion on the no-end-in-sight Iraq war grew even more intense. But Senator Pete Domenici, also involved in the scandal, has been the focus of the news coverage, softening somewhat the damage done to Wilson. Also, Dems fret that a formal ethics investigation of Wilson by her House colleagues that could inflict severe damage is not guaranteed.

This outbreak of mild serendipity for Wilson doesn't mean she isn't vulnerable. There is no public polling available, but even in good years her re-elect numbers hover in the mid-40's. With the dreary news backdrop she faces, one can safely assume those numbers have not changed. But Wilson's steely countenance and proven resiliency are character traits that have served her well. There is no back down from the only female Air Force veteran in Congress.

Wilson continues to raise healthy amounts of campaign cash--nearly $600,000 in the bank--and despite her near-death experience last year that politicos say may have ended her hopes for a US Senate seat someday, apparently no one has told her. The protégé of Senator Domenici continues to make appearances outside of the ABQ district, the latest being in Clovis and Los Alamos.


The Democrats may be fumbling their chances to keep Heather on the ropes, but they are not without hope. New Democratic Party Chair Brian Colón will be called on to keep the primary from getting out of control, not playing or indicating a favorite and perhaps even getting out of the race candidates who have no significant support. If he can keep the carnage to a minimum, the chances of party unity in November will be enhanced.

Also, Wilson is trapped by her support of the bloody and unpopular war. While Domenici has backed off of his pro-war stance--something overdue for the representative of a moderate district--she is inhibited by her conservative Republican base and maybe by her own stubbornness. Will that change in the months ahead? If it doesn't, the seat could.

Taking out an incumbent is rarely easy. Pragmatic Democrats have conceded the party has not developed a very deep bench of contenders and that it is antipathy towards Wilson, the US attorney scandal and the war that will have to do the job for them. With the threat of a divisive primary looming, they can only hope they're right.


The ABQ Journal's new face on the city hall beat will be an old hand. Dan McKay, who covers Bernalillo county, will move over to the city to replace Jim Ludwick who we told you yesterday was leaving the paper to take a job with a public interest group. We now hear it is the Animal Protection Voters of NM...A nice pop for Big Bill in the early primary state New Hampshire as he pulls ahead of John Edwards to take third place in the latest poll. It's not that the Guv has been picking up support; it's Edwards dropping.

Speaking of polls, look at this latest one in New Mexico from KOB-TV and Survey USA showing Bush's approval rating down to 30%. The Prez approval rating among R's is at 65%, with Dems coming in at 87% disapproval.

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