Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hold On Heather! Steve Pearce Calling: He Forms Committee To Weigh Senate Run: Exclusive Insider Details, Plus: A Chavez In The US Senate? 

Steve & Heather
Steve Pearce is giving them something to think about and then some. The GOP southern NM Congressman, in a move described variously as "ingenious" and "savvy," leaked word Tuesday night that he will form an "exploratory committee" as he continues to weigh an '08 run for the Republican nomination for the US senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici and coveted by the already announced ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson.

"Pearce's move puts the Republican senate race on ice, and it freezes the jockeying for the southern congressional seat, too. It is an ingenious move. He will benefit from the continued guessing game on whether he will eventually get in the race. It sends a message to his district that he is a player and that this nomination is not Heather's to have simply for the asking," analyzed Dem pollster and consultant Harry Pavlides.

Rumors floated around the Internet Tuesday that Pearce would get in the race within hours, but my Alligators said something else was brewing. They told me that Pearce, 60, was in the field polling Tuesday night and wanted to take a look at numbers matching him up with Heather. An exploratory committee will give him time to consider the results, see if he can collect cash, and test support in a state Republican party that is divided over who should be their nominee.


That division is symbolized by the infighting over the possible senate candidacy of GOP state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons. The pros tell me in a three way race Lyons could split conservative votes with Pearce, handing the nomination to Wilson. Without Lyons, my experts, who have pored over the numbers, think the conservative Pearce conceivably could beat the 46 year old Wilson on the strength of blowout victories in the SE counties, San Juan county and by holding her totals down in Albuquerque where not all R's appear united behind her. But a united ABQ GOP behind Heather would mean the end of Pearce.

Some supporters of Pearce are claiming Lyons is a stalking horse for the faction of the Republican Party represented by lawyer-lobbyist Mickey Barnett and Chairman Allen Weh, as well as operatives with the Republican National Committee. They claim Lyons knows he can't win and is being used to pressure Pearce into abandoning the race.

Weh was recently challenged for the chairmanship by rural R's partial to Pearce. There was also a fight for the GOP Bernalillo county chairmanship recently that insider R's reported showcased the division between Pearce and Wilson supporters.

Barnett fielded primary candidates against other Republicans in 2004 and has been a longtime GOP player with connections to the Bush White House and outgoing Senator Domenici. He was involved in the ouster of Republican US attorney David Iglesias. Weh is a loyal Wilson supporter. She was instrumental in placing him in the chairmanship.

Some of Pearce's supporters are speculating that Pearce could turn Lyons to his side and keep him out of the senate race in exchange for supporting Lyons for Pearce's House seat. Lyons doesn't live in the district, but is a rural New Mexican who could make it fit.

None of our top analysts believe Lyons can win the Senate nod on his own, but right now he is in a prime position to get what he can from either the Wilson or Pearce camps for a pledge to either get in or get out. Lyons' supporters say the speculation is all balderdash; that he believes Wilson in particular is a weak candidate and he thinks he can beat her and that's why he is considering a run, not to carry water for anyone.


Pearce is a wealthy former oil executive, with a net worth variously estimated from $5 million to $25 million. He could self-finance his campaign but friends say he is not of a mind to, although he could come with start up money.


Pearce appears to be serious about considering the senate run, but he is checking his ego at the door. The SurveyUSA poll numbers this week show him losing a senate race to Governor Big Bill in a landslide. But the numbers do say he could beat ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez.

If Bill's Prez campaign sputters, he could decide to enter the race and either Wilson or Pearce would likely be doomed. Pearce has to bet Bill won't get in. He also has to believe that Democrats, including those in the camp of newly minted senate candidate Marty Chavez who think he would be a much easier candidate to defeat than Wilson, have it all wrong.

"He is conservative. He can be portrayed as an extremist. New Mexico does not have a history of sending conservatives to the senate," argued Dem Pavlides. "This is a very difficult decision."

Reflecting that difficulty, Washington and New Mexico Alligators we interviewed were torn down the middle on whether Pearce is only making a move to strengthen his statewide reputation, or whether he will actually challenge Wilson and engage in an historic battle for the heart and soul of the NM GOP.

The Congressman, who makes his home in Hobbs, will apparently have time to assess the options assuming he keeps the exploratory committee open for more than a couple of days. Most observers think he will keep the suspense going for at least a couple of weeks. That's fine with us and other excited politics watchers, but it's pure torture for Heather Wilson.


In the event Pearce vacates the southern seat, look for Democratic Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones to give the race a serious look as well as Dem State Rep. Joe Cervantes. Al Kissling and Bill McCamley are already running, and if Steve goes the list could grow even longer. But, as we are fond of pointing out, many candidates could fold at the March 15 pre-primary convention where a candidate is required to get 20% of the vote to make it on the June primacy ballot. If he or she does not, it's game over.


If Pearce doesn't get in and Diane Denish and Big Bill also stay on the sidelines, then the odds dictate that ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, 55, and Heather Wilson will face off for the New Mexico senate seat. If you're keeping score on that basis, it's Marty 1 and Heather 0.

Chavez made his formal entry into the race Tuesday morning, following Heather's hasty announcement on Friday. The time Chavez had to put his together showed. His speech, peppered with anti-Iraq war references, offered base Democrats some meat, in contrast with Wilson who made very general remarks amid signs printed for her last House campaign, not a senate run. In contrast, Chavez unveiled a new senate logo, Web site and executed a media plan that had him doing more than two dozen local and national interviews.

But if Marty and Heather are to be our warriors this will be one long epic and dirty battle. State Republicans didn't even give Chavez the traditional courtesy of announcing his candidacy without interference. KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson says they were passing out anti-Marty bullet points at his announcement at ABQ's Eclipse Aviation even as he spoke. If the R’s want to create sympathy for Marty, that's one way of doing it. How about the GOP puts up a new billboard: “New Consultants--Badly Needed."


Marty's problems with a small radical wing of the GOP is not going to be his major problem, at least not right now. It is with the liberal wing of his own party. "The most important number in the SurveyUSA poll is that 25% of liberal Dems are supporting Wilson in a race against Chavez. He gets 65%. He must increase that number, " argued pollster Pavlides.

Chavez did not offer any specifics to me Tuesday night on how he plans to win over the progressive wing, He said there has been a lot of "miscommunication." One thing he has going for him is that many enviros believe he will vote with them if he wins the senate seat.

"We believe he will vote like Senator Bingaman, so the more he talks about national issues, the better he will be received," one leading Santa Fe environmental activist told me.

Another analyst told me: "Governor Richardson is pro-business; Marty is pro-developer. That's the difference. He has to reprove his environmental credentials because of his incessant push for bridges over the Rio Grande and a road through the Petroglyphs, among other things," He said.

Beyond that, Chavez will have to raise millions of dollars. Heather Wilson told KKOB-AM radio's Peter St. Cyr Tuesday that she believes the Senate race--primary and general--will cost an astounding $10 million.

Chavez told me that former NM Dem Party chairman and longtime Dem fundraiser
Jamie Koch, who is also chair of the UNM Board of Regents, has agreed to co-chair his senate finance committee.

Koch is also a finance heavy for Diane Denish which the Chavez camp was pleased to point out. They believe this is another sign that they think Di is not about to join the Dem senate fray. But after watching the Machiavellian maneuvers of Steve Pearce, maybe Di will open an "exploratory committee" of her own. That would sure be a feather tickling Marty's feet.

Chavez is not exploring. He's in, and even had a few butterflies as he made his debut as a senate contender. "I was a bit nervous. After all, this is the United States Senate," he told me. Yes, it is, But if you listen to Big Bill, caught up in the heat of a Presidential campaign, you would think it was equivalent to the local Kiwanis club. But it may look better to him in the aftermath of the Iowa results. Or maybe not.

Bloggin' On TV
Whether a bloody GOP senate battle develops is yet to be resolved, but certainly it would help the Dems, who look as if they will avoid that fate unless Denish does the unexpected and risks the Guv's chair for a senate bid...If elected, Chavez would be the first Hispanic NM Senator since Joe Montoya who was defeated for reelection in 1976....If Pearce fights it out for the US Senate with Heather and both their House seats go Democratic and the Dems also take the Domenici Senate seat, the five member NM congressional delegation would go all Dem. The last time it belonged to one party was back in 1981-'82, says one former Capitol Hill resident. (That's me.)

The last Chavez to serve NM in the US Senate was Senator Dennis Chavez who, like Marty Chavez, was a graduate of Georgetown University...

I talked with The Politico about our wild US senate race. It's good stuff from top writers.

Insiders say before entering the senate fray, Mayor Chavez held a meeting with his department directors and told them "not to do anything stupid" while he was gone. Does that include sighing in relief that the boss is hardly around anymore?...

Can you believe all the politics? And the exclusives these Alligators keep coming with! Let's keep it going. Email your news and comments to the home of New Mexico politics.

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