NM-Sen: Former US Attorney Lines Up to Run Against Domenici

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.

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UPDATED Bill Richardson New Orleans Update

Cross-posted from my Hurricane Katrina recovery blog, The Wayward Episcopalian: Nathan in New Orleans.

About a month ago, I wrote about discussing Hurrican Katrina with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. C-Span has since aired our brief conversation. The video is ten minutes of Richardson schmoozing with the Dartmouth College Democrats and Dartmouth's La Alianza Latina group after his Hanover, NH town hall speech.

I first appear with him at the 1:20 mark, where we talk NM burgers and I ask him about New Orleans. We were interrupted by the official thank you remarks, but appear again at 2:50 (C-Span cut out the remarks), when he answers my earlier question. As I said in my earlier post, he didn't disappoint me on the issue, but he didn't impress me, either.

I'd put it on YouTube and post the clip itself here, but I'm not sure how to do that, so visit this link if you're interested. It's available for either Real Player or Windows Media Player.

http://www.c-spanarchives.org/videolibra ry/index.php?main_page=product_video_inf o&products_id=197484-1&tID=5

Update: Click on the above words "I wrote about" for details about and an analysis of Richardson's answer to my question. This post is just about adding the video link. H/T liberaltruthsayer. Also, I will be transcribing the conversation and adding that to Wayward and to this post tonight. H/T peace voter.

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Democrats Line Up Strong Challenger for Heather Wilson

David Sirota mentioned it over in Breaking Blue, but I think it bears repeating here on the front page of this site: According to reporting by The Albuquerque Tribune, the Democrats may have just found their candidate to take New Mexico's first congressional district next year.

Martin Heinrich is setting up a committee to explore a bid for Congress and taking an unpaid leave of absence from his job as state natural resources trustee to think about the idea.

"It frees me up to figure out what it would take to run," Heinrich said this morning of his decision to take leave.

Heinrich, also an Albuquerque city councilor, is a potential Democratic challenger to Rep. Heather Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican.

[...]

Richardson appointed Heinrich to the trustee job in March 2006. The natural resources trustee settles cases in which there is damage to state natural resources. Former trustee Jim Baca will hold the job on an interim basis.

Heinrich was elected to the City Council in 2003 and represents the Southeast Heights.

I've been following this race here on MyDD for a while -- even before Wilson's role in the prosecutor purge became apparent in early March -- and it seems increasingly clear that although Wilson was able to withstand the strong challenge of state Attorney General Patricia Madrid in 2006 (with, of course, the help of close to $2 million in attack ads by the National Republican Congressional Committee), New Mexico's first district might actually be even more vulnerable to a challenge this cycle than in the last.

Wilson's role in the prosecutor purge story, admitting that she broke congressional ethics regulations by trying to lean on a United States Attorney, has certainly helped put this race back on the map for this cycle. But even in the absence of this scandal, one might have rightfully expected a close race in the district, which actually leans a couple points more Democratic than the nation as a whole in presidential elections, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Going into this year, there were rumors circulating that New Mexico's Republican Senator, Pete Domenici -- Wilson's political mentor and the power in the state GOP -- would retire late in the campaign, virtually handing the senatorial nomination to Wilson. Such a move would inevitably open up Wilson's seat, thus making it significantly more susceptible to a takeover by the Democrats in November 2008.

This rumored plan seems significantly less likely today than it did even just a few months ago. Yet there is still at least some reason to believe that Wilson's seat could still come open this cycle. Yes, Wilson has a fairly healthy $250,00 in the bank, as of the end of the first quarter. That said, the near constant stream of negative press over the prosecutor purge, and the potential that such a stream could continue and indeed grow throughout the rest of the cycle, could potentially lead Wilson to opt not to run in 2008, either for the Senate or for her House seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already gone up on the air against her, a move that cannot increase her excitement about running again. And if her recent voting pattern is any indication -- for instance backing corporate CEOs over normal shareholders -- Wilson appears ready to abandon her tradition of at least pretending to be a moderate, perhaps another sign that she is gearing up for retirement.

Heinrich may be the right candidate for this district. He also might not. But I like the fact that the Democrats are moving forward with their recruitment in this district, and others, to send a signal to potentially vulnerable Republican congressmen early in the cycle that they are not going to get a pass this time around -- not by a long shot.

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Tom Udall Could Force a Pete Domenici Retirement

[Cross-posted at my blog, Senate 2008 Guru: Following the Races.]

The Albuquerque Tribune just came out with an article on Pajamas Pete Domenici's Q1 fundraising.  Domenici raised a seemingly meager $393,000 for Q1.  It looks meager given that Domenici is a long-time incumbent and former Chair of a powerful committee.  The article elucidates:

Domenici's total is dwarfed by what was spent on most Senate races in 2006 but is comparable to what Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Silver City Democrat, raised and spent on the way to an easy victory over Allen McCulloch of Farmington last year.

Bingaman raised about $230,000 in the first quarter of 2005 and had $556,000 in cash on hand at the end of the period. He wound up spending about $3.3 million. Domenici spent about $4.6 million on his last re-election race in 2002.

Bingaman spent $3.3 million to beat his opponent 71-29 last year.  In 2002, Domenici spent $4.6 million and only beat his opponent 65-35, a drubbing to be sure, but a smaller margin than Bingaman's victory and at a 40% higher price.

So, Domenici is on a correct fundraising pace, if he just wants to raise the same $3 to $5 million for a cake-walk run.

(More below the fold.)

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A Conversation with Bill Richardson about New Orleans

Cross posted from my Katrina recovery blog, The Wayward Episcopalian: Nathan in New Orleans. Also cross-posted to MyDD and Democratic Underground.

I had the chance to talk with presidential candidate Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) about rebuilding the Gulf Coast yesterday. He spoke to several hundred people at Dartmouth College, and then met with La Alianza Latina and the College Democrats. It was at this reception where I asked him about New Orleans. It will eventually be on C-Span.

Overall, I give Richardson a B/B-. He seemed like he was definitely concerned about New Orleans and had a passing knowledge of the issue, but hadn't fully thought it through the way a presidential candidate should. He said most of the right things, but all his answers had flaws. Katrina is also nowhere to be found on his website, though I find that that's sadly true for most of the candidates.

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