Monday, April 14, 2008

Pete Goes Nuclear: Could It Heat Up The Senate Race? Plus: TV Campaign News, And: Big Bill Shoots High: Would Obama Buy? 

NM GOP US Senator Pete Domenici may be feeling liberated by his looming retirement, but when he went nuclear at a congressional hearing he may have created a radioactive issue for the candidates in the 2008 primary campaign hoping to succeed him. Pete, one of the most ardent backers of nuclear power, actually suggested that NM might be a good home for the highly radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants.

Southeastern New Mexico, already home to the nation's first deep underground nuclear waste disposal site, might also be a good site for radioactive nuclear reactor waste, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., suggested...

Domenici is frustrated by the slow progress in opening Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a high-level waste site, but the chance of our state becoming the repository for the stuff no one wants is about as as likely as the Roadrunner getting caught by Wile E. Coyote. More important is the impact of the lame-duck Senator's loose lips on the campaign trail. Do GOP US Senate contenders Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson agree with Domenici? Someone might want to ask. And even if they try to distance themselves from Pete's views, Dem nominee Tom Udall has just been handed a new cudgel to use on the R's and to excite his base.

The issue seems most tricky for pro-nuclear Pearce who is counting on heavy support in the June 3 primary in nuked up Lea and Eddy counties. Does he tell those folks Pete's suggestion is a lousy idea? They might object. After all, Lea is home to an uranium enrichment center and Eddy is home to WIPP, the low-level radioactive waste site. Both projects bring in gobs of SE NM jobs and the associated dollars.

But if Pearce goes pro-nuclear like Pete, he risks major wrath from the heavily populated middle of the state where the prospect of big trucks traveling down the interstates with stuff hotter than Hatch Chile, is not at all inviting.

Wilson would seem to have an easier time handling this literally hot potato. She isn't going to carry the Southeast, but anything that dampens enthusiasm for Steve there or anywhere, is OK in her book.

Whether Domenici or his advisers were aware of the political complications the Senator's position presents is an interesting question. Is this his way of advancing his favorite industry and also throwing a bone to Wilson whom he still hopes will succeed him? To find out, we'll probably have to wait for the book.


It is reasonable to expect Wilson and Pearce to be confronted with the nuke issue in the coming days, but if it isn't, perhaps it will pop up in prime time. KOAT-TV has announced it will host a live May 27 9 p.m. hour-long debate between the two US Senate hopefuls. Stations KOB and KRQE have not announced whether they have invited the duo to debate, but the channel 7 date guarantees we will have at least one.

The KOAT face-off comes one week before the June 3 primary. By then, just about all the early vote will have been cast, but a misstep could still shake up the race. If the other stations come with debates of their own earlier in the May, it could impact the all-important early vote which by some estimates will be equal to 50% of all GOP votes cast.


The media Alligators who told us last month that as much as $4 million could be spent on TV advertising in this year's primary may be lagging some. We are not seeing it yet. In fact, ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Martin Heinrich appears to have decided to not go up on the tube until May. He is asking his fans to appear in his TV spots and filming isn't until April 20. Many expected Wilson and Pearce to have already started the TV fireworks. With absentee voting set to begin May 6th, we doubt they wait much longer. That $4 million figure is still alive, but some of the candidates are being careful--so far--how they spend it.


Pearce and Wilson have not released their first quarter fund-raising totals yet. They are due tomorrow. Dem Northern US Rep. Tom Udall came early and says he took in $1.3 million in the first three months of the year. Added to the million he raised earlier plus what was left over in his US House campaign fund, that is a tidy sum of around $2.7 million. He hasn't spent much so his cash on hand should be comparable. Money is not going to be the Dems problem in taking over the Pete Senate seat; it is going to be the tricky politics involved in wooing an independent New Mexican electorate.


What caught our eye most in a recent LA Times piece was not the continuing intrigue over whether Bill struggled with his endorsement of Obama over Clinton, but this little line:

"I never say never in politics, but I'm not pining for it," he said. (Nor, he suggested, would he settle for just any Cabinet post, having served before...)

Not settle for "just any" Cabinet post? Sounds like Bill's lobbying of Obama has begun, and he's shooting high. Forget sending me out as ambassador to New Guinea, pal. I want the big time.

All of this is more than passing interest because unlike the parlor game over why Bill endorsed Barack, if he actually gets a job with him it has real world impact here. Namely, it would make Light Guv Diane Denish governor. And that just might have an impact on public policy. This is a case where insider politics matters much.

Veteran national correspondent Mark Barabak wrote the LA Times Richardson piece. While visiting in ABQ, he told us that Dave Contarino, a longtime political aide and Bill's prez campaign heavy, also attended the 8 a.m. Guv's mansion breakfast where Bill's endorsement was discussed. Mark, who enjoys covering our state's enchanting politics and seeks honorary citizenship here, also noted the Guv seemed more "laid-back" than at previous interviews. Laid-back? With that beard he's sporting, we expect Bill at any moment to whip out a folk guitar and a book of Allen Ginsberg poetry and wax emotional over the meaning of life.


NM journalist Val Cooper of the Four Corners knew the political game both on the trail and in the newsroom. That's because she was one of the state's first women journalists to achieve prominence. Cooper, 92, died Saturday. Her lifelong love of the news rubbed off on her daughter, Kay Cooper McKinney, who wrote for a number of years for the ABQ Tribune and whose late husband, Jerry McKinney, was himself a veteran journalist and political aide to Congressman Joe Skeen...

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