Monday, November 05, 2007

Udall's Stall: Wants Field Cleared, But Chavez Prepares For Battle; Will Anyone Blink? Plus: Pearce's Hat Trick; Complete Blog U.S. Senate Coverage 

Udall & Chavez
Call them the doubters of Thomas. A slightly tentative tone creeped into the speech given by Dem US Rep. Tom Udall Saturday when he addressed the NM Democratic Party State Central Committee, and it was enough for the arm chair analysts and Alligators to reopen the betting line on whether Udall will really give up his northern NM US House seat and run for the US Senate. At the same time, reliable insiders said Udall's camp is hoping that ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez can be persuaded to get out before Udall makes a final decision. Udall now says he will take two weeks to decide which would put an announcement no later than November 16th.

Udall, who Thursday said he was "reconsidering" whether to seek the Senate seat, was not expected to formally announce Saturday, but by most accounts he also did not deliver a speech that indicated he was strongly leaning toward a run. He said before committing he wanted to consult Dem NM Senator Bingaman and the Senate Democratic leadership and wanted assurances that he would start off with some stroke. Udall would be giving up a slot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee if he were to be lucky enough to take a Senate seat.

But what assurances can he get? Promise a first year freshman senator a seat on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee? Good luck. That would be a promise not worth the cocktail napkin it was written on.


Top Democratic Party insiders said they agreed that Udall's initial foray into the public arena following his decision to reconsider a Senate race was more muted than expected. They also said they believe he is taking two weeks not to just talk to the Senate leadership, but to see if D.C. Dems intent on getting ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez out of the race can work some magic on Udall's behalf. Again, good luck.

A cross section of Dem power players agreed putting pressure on Chavez via the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its chairman, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, would only make Chavez dig in his heels.

Mike Santullo, a NM talk radio pioneer and a native New Yorker with 35 years of NM political experience, put it this way:

"If Tom Udall wants this seat he is going to have to be prepared to fight for it. It is not going to be given to him nor is it his to assume by hereditary right. Senator Schumer would be well-advised to heed the words of (former NM Territorial Governor) Lew Wallace. 'All calculations based on our experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico.'

Santullo also framed the race as "Chavez's brass knuckles against Udall's boxing gloves."

"You must fight for the right." He maintained.

Udall's father, Stewart Udall, was a U.S. House member from Arizona from 1955 to 1961 and then served as U.S. Interior secretary from 1961 to 1969.


Another political veteran offered her assessment where the Chavez-Udall situation stands.

"Chavez sleeps on cement. This is it for him. He is going to do whatever it takes. Udall has a soft pillow with his congressional seat. That's the difference." She said.

Others chimed in that Udall's two week stall could have the effect of drying up Marty's cash and also keeps the focus off of Big Bill who has been wounded by speculation that he might seek the Senate seat if his Prez campaign falters.


If the national Dems insist on risking building sympathy for Chavez, they could call on personalities such as former President Clinton and Hillary to lobby him to get out. But it would likely be for naught. If Chavez folded because Bill Richardson was getting in, that would be one thing, but to fold for Udall would forever mark him in the history books. If Senator Schumer thinks differently, we suggest he switch his brand of scotch.

Could Chavez be threatened out of the race? It's hard to see. The three term ABQ mayor has been accused of just about everything and he is still standing. What are they going to throw at him that he fears, and that they have the stomach to take before the public?

Udall's caution is legendary. He rarely looks for a fight. It is not in his character, but a fight it will likely be if you really want a hand in leading the American nation.

If he is indeed planning a run, he may have made a tactical error by appearing at the Saturday meeting and not stepping up the rhetoric. Also, if the goal is to generate news and build statewide name ID for two weeks, you want to be darn sure what you're re putting out emphasizes your strength, not the element of your personality that could cause trouble.

On this one, we break with the conventional wisdom of the Washington press, the anti-Chavez brigades, and the coterie surrounding Chuck Schumer which all have Udall definitely in this race. Our gut and our Alligators have us planted firmly on the fence. We are agnostic until we are shown the proof. And we won't surprised if it goes either way. Neither should you.


For Steve Pearce a Senate run by Big Bill remains on the table. The southern NM GOP Congressman says he still sees Richardson possibly getting in the race, or at least believes that's how he should conduct himself.

"If you're a high-school football team, you don't prepare to play against Jal if your opponent's going to be Albuquerque High," he said.

Yes, Big Bill lurks. Until Udall utters, Bill's possible presence in the Senate race casts a long shadow. And even if Udall gets in, the noise won't go away until after the February 12 filing deadline. The stakes are that high.

Pearce, facing a primary battle with ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson, had a hat trick at his formal entry into the race Friday afternoon in ABQ--he pulled out former NM Governor Dave Cargo. The most prominent moderate Republican in the state introduced Pearce. It was Pearce looking to invade Heather's territory in the big metro area and the Spanish North and fight perceptions that he is too conservative to win a general election.

State R's are split into factions over the Wilson-Pearce race. The current leadership, Senator Domenici's operatives and associated consultants and hangers-on are boosting Heather. Pearce is attracting the reform wing that made an unsuccessful play this year to replace GOP Chairman Allen Weh. Cargo, 78, is not a conservative Pearce type, but is willing to go with him as Pearce will assume leadership of the party if he wins the nomination.

You old-timers will note the Cargo appearance with Pearce for another reason. The ex-Guv sought the open US Senate seat in 1972 when Democratic Senator Clinton Anderson retired. Who beat Dave for the GOP nomination that year? None other than Pete Domenici. Now, 35 years later, Cargo is back to put the needle in.

Truly, our beloved La Politica is a game for a lifetime.


Pearce's announcement was also notable in that he did not once mention the word "Iraq." He threw out just a chunk of red meat, not the whole steak.

"We need conservative leadership in Congress that will say ‘NO’ to socialized medicine and runaway spending, and ‘YES’ to allowing our troops and their commanders to make military decisions – not politicians," he declared.

Pearce knows Iraq is the emotional trigger for all that has gone wrong in the nation and why polling shows record numbers feel the country is on the wrong track. His down-the-line support for the unpopular war is a major obstacle to his ultimate election.

Pearce won live TV coverage of his speech on KOB-TV, but he was lucky. He was not ready when the cameras came to the podium at the top of the 4 p.m newscast. But the station came back 10 minutes later when he was ready and carried his entire 10 minute speech. Also, Pearce's wife, Cynthia, was not positioned in the shot with Pearce, losing an opportunity to introduce her to the state and also soften his own tough image.

The congressman also used up valuable statewide airtime by taking several minutes to thank just about every person in the room, all of them unknown to the viewing audience. The 60 year old Pearce found his footing when he got into the heart of his speech.


We have a solid field of contenders for the US Senate, but viewing the last month through the rearview mirror, you can see why Pete Domenici was the undisputed champion. His retirement speech in early October at ABQ's St. Mary's High School Gym came off without a hitch, even as the 75 year old struggled with an incurable disease that has slowed his gait. The advance work for the speech was on the mark and the event, broadcast on all three network TV stations, was as smooth as silk.

Contrast that with the rushed and wobbly entry of Heather Wilson who, barely 24 hours after Pete dropped out, announced in a small hotel room with no message. Then there was Mayor Chavez's ill-conceived decision to announce at a private business. Never a good idea anytime, but especially reckless as the financially insecure Eclipse Aviation bit the Mayor days later by announcing layoffs. And we've mentioned today the Pearce media missteps and questioned the wisdom of Tom Udall showing up on statewide TV and perhaps hurting, not helping, his possible bid for the Senate.

Sure, the candidates were taken by surprise by the Domenici retirement, but their helter-skelter debuts raises questions. Where are all the vaunted and expensive consultants? Didn't anyone thinking of paying a couple of grand and having them help for a day or two? What are the ridiculous amounts of money for? And where are the streetwise congressional staffs?

Pete Domenici knew how to shape perceptions by commanding the public stage with confidence, authority and attention to detail. And his staff responded. The choppy media starts of his would-be successors are an acute reminder of how big the Domenici shoes are. They will not be filled with one fitting.


Former GOP NM Attorney General Hal Stratton ('87-90) ends his public career on a down note with the WaPo hitting hard on Stratton's term as head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and his acceptance of industry paid trips...The candidates hoping to replace Tom Udall in his congressional seat if he decides to run for Senate are stacked up like cordwood...Photog Mark Bralley took today's political photos over the weekend. A tip of the hat to him...

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