Wednesday, January 09, 2008

High Drama And Huge Comebacks In New Hampshire; Hill Chills Obama; McCain Rises; Bill Again Spills; When Does He Quit? Plus: Domenici Endorses Darren 

The voters of New Hampshire smashed the crystal balls, pushed away the pollsters and have given us a presidential race hotter than a Tucumcari parking lot at high noon on the Fourth of July. What was supposed to be a Barack blowout turned into a nail-biter and an improbable win going to Hillary, aka, the Comeback Queen. As Dan Rather would say, Hillary's win was as thin as November ice--only two points--but it was enough to reverse fragile campaign psychology and propel her back into the game and on to "Super Duper Tuesday" February 5th. But first our dynamic duo will stop in Nevada on the 19th and South Carolina on the 26th. John Edwards may ride in the rump seat and Big Bill, if he stays in this thing, will have to hitchhike to Reno. His bank book is just about out of pages.

How did so many go so wrong--the pollsters, that is. "Polling a primary is always difficult, but polling one where independent voters can vote for either a Democrat or a Republican and can decide to do so on the day of the election makes it especially challenging," explained NM veteran pollster Brian Sanderoff, trying his best to give his brethren some cover.

Others, like Dem consultant Harry Pavlides, speculated that ethnic voting played a role in the huge difference between most of the polls and the eventual outcome. "There were voters who switched their minds when they drove up to the polling place, and I think many of them were motivated by race--uncertain whether they wanted to vote for a black candidate." He speculated.

Pavlides won't get points for being politically correct, but he had plenty of company in political circles who shared his theory about ethnic voting and also agreed that Granite State voters like to put some pebbles in the path of any frontrunner. Obama was squarely in their sights when the New Hampshire earth began to shake with his every step.

Unfortunately for Big Bill, the polls were only wrong when it came to Hill and Barack. They nailed it when they predicted a mid-single digit finish for the struggling New Mexican; he came in fourth with 5%, following a 2% fourth place showing last week in Iowa. Edwards grabbed 17% for third. Obama was at 37% and Hillary was doing her best not to gloat while bringing home her surprise 39% win.

On the Republican side, the race went from muddy to muddier, as 71 year old Arizona Senator John McCain beat up on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, taking it 37% to 32%. Only months ago, McCain looked like roadkill from Catron County, making his victory all the more sweet. Whether it will sour in South Carolina, as it did in 2000, is the next question.


From New Hampshire, Governor Bill, as he did after a crushing defeat in Iowa, vowed to take his campaign West to the January 19th Nevada caucus, (video here) but insiders told me they expect the Guv to meet with top campaign staff in Santa Fe this week where a withdrawal will be discussed. Getting out before the legislative session gets underway January 15th is a consideration. He could suffer a major prestige blow if he goes to Nevada and again finishes at or in the cellar. Also, as we said, money is key. He is obviously running out as he was not on New Hampshire TV in the closing days. What do you do in Vegas? Go around with a sandwich board on your back advertising your run?

The Alligators were also talking Tuesday night about another Big Bill problem--his diss of Hillary in Iowa when his supporters were told to take Obama as their second choice--something Bill denies, but not with much believability. The Clintonistas are enraged, meaning no veep slot with Hillary or secretary of state if she makes it to the White House. And wouldn't you know it. The Hillary horse came in last night and the Obama horse faded. Not good for the Guv.

Bill left New Hampshire for Santa Fe last night aboard a private jet. His top campaign staff also came back to mull over the next move. If the stuff they are smoking isn't too strong, they will urge Bill to pull the plug on this thing quick because it's looking like dirty bathtub water.

Insiders say they would expect Richardson to withdraw with a bang, not a whimper, and stage a final campaign rally where his supporters could let out one last cheer and where some would argue he should run for the US senate seat or as a favorite son in the February 5th Dem caucus. Others would simply sigh in relief that they won't be getting hit up for any more campaign cash. Stay tuned.

Pete's letter
He's done it again. NM GOP Senator Pete Domenici, setting aside tradition as he did in 1998, has endorsed Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White for the GOP nomination for the US House seat being vacated by Rep. Heather Wilson who is seeking Domenici's Senate seat. Pete did it in a January 2 fundraising letter for Darren which reads in part: " I believe in Darren White and I will do everything I can to help him because Darren will be a strong Republican voice for New Mexico in Congress." (Read the whole letter by clicking on the image posted here.)

The news is another blow to ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro who is White's foe for the GOP nod and who also suffered a Domenici snub last month when the Senator hosted a fundraising reception for White on Capitol Hill.

In '98, Pete endorsed Wilson over several GOP foes when the congressional seat was opened up by the death of Republican Steve Schiff. That created a rift that has lasted to this day, but never slowed Wilson. Domenici was a powerful incumbent when he endorsed Wilson. He is now a lame-duck. But the White campaign was not shy about circulating the Domenici letter, taking advantage of his popularity within Republican circles and, more important, tapping into his donor base for campaign cash and squeezing Carraro out. Senator Joe looked for a fig leaf and came up with this: "It is apparent that he is not endorsing White over me, because he would have used my name, and we have supported each other over the years." Like we said, a fig leaf there. Domenici did not mention Joe's name because he didn't have to.

The next move insiders are awaiting is Domenici's decision on the Senate race. Will he endorse Heather Wilson over Rep. Steve Pearce? Most observers seem to think that is more a matter of when, not if.

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