by Jonathan Singer, Sat May 19, 2007 at 11:57:27 AM EDT
I've been arguing since not long after the last election that the Democrats should look to mount a serious challenge to New Mexico's aging Republican Senator Pete Domenici. This sentiment only grew when Domenici, almost echoing he actions of his even more senile Senate Republican colleague Jim Bunning (who, among other things, cheated in a 2004 debate by using a teleprompter), was seen walking around the Senate in pajama bottoms (or "hunting pants", as he calls them).
Since Domenici was implicated in the prosecutor purge scandal, having tried to pressure then-United States Attorney David Iglesias to rush indictments of Democratic politicians in the run up to the 2006 midterms, there has been significantly more attention given to to the New Mexico Senate race. I suggested a couple months ago that Democrats allocate a decent chunk of money for ads beating Domenici up for his alleged improprieties (improprieties that led him to hire a defense attorney who used to represent now-imprisoned former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham) and that they ramp up their recruitment efforts in the state. It looks like such an investment might not have been as necessary as I had once believed, as Domenici's approval rating sunk from a net 37 points positive in February to a net 16 points positive in April (we'll have to see if this trend continues when SurveyUSA releases its May numbers next week). And now it appears that Democrats' efforts to find a credible challenger for Domenici may be coming together. Kate Nash has the story for the Albuquerque Tribune (via TPM Election Central).
One Democrat who isn't running against Wilson is former U.S. Attorney John Kelly. He said Wednesday he's considering taking on U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici instead.
"I do feel obligated to consider it and am going to look seriously at it," he said.
This wouldn't be the first federal run for Kelly, who served as US Attorney for New Mexico under the Clinton administration. In 2000 Kelly ran against Domenici protoge Heather Wilson in the state's first congressional district, holding the then-freshman Republican Congresswoman to 50.3 percent of the vote -- almost exactly the same margin Wilson got last fall (50.2 percent) in a slightly differently drawn district. In addition to having some campaign experience and a résumé that would seem to make a good contrast to the potentially unethical actions of Domenici, Kelly has proved to be a fairly adept fundraiser, bringing in more than $1.6 million during his 2000 run, back when federal limits on individuals' campaign contributions were less than half of what they are today.
Taking all of this together, Kelly just might be the candidate to go up against Domenici in 2008 -- and perhaps even the candidate to scare Domenici into retirement, opening up his seat and making it significantly easier for the Democrats to pick it up.