House 2008: Dems Sense Blood in the Water in NM-01

I've written a bit in recent days about the scandal surrounding the politically-motivated purge of United States Attorneys because in many ways this story crystalizes a number of the central attacks on the Bush White House, the Republican Party and modern conservatism: That they all care more about political power than good policy, that they advocate for the use of governmental power to forward their radical agenda, that they have little respect for the rule of law, and that they are just plain corrupt.

But beyond the wider picture of how this might affect the public's already poor perceptions of the Republican Party -- the recent New York Times/CBS News poll finds that just 34 percent of Americans view the GOP favorably, lower than the party's image has been in the poll since its attept to impeach and remove President Clinton in 1998 -- this story could be bad news for Republicans on a tactical level, too. As I noted yesterday, tough campaigns for and possible losses by the two Congressional Republicans seemingly most caught up in the scandal -- Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both of New Mexico -- would make it significantly more difficult for Republicans to reclaim control over either or both chambers of Congress next fall. I have already written about and advocated on behalf of a course of action to force Sen. Domenici into retirement, which I seriously hope is undertaken. And now, it appears as though the sharks are circling in New Mexico's first congressional district, which Wilson represents. First, Michael Gisick writing for the Albuquerque Tribune:

"If I was Heather Wilson, I'd be thinking about taking a long trip to Baghdad, where the conditions are a little more subdued," said former Gov. Dave Cargo.

Cargo, a Republican, was only half-joking.

Claims that Wilson and Domenici pressured Iglesias to bring indictments in a politically charged corruption investigation of local Democrats ahead of last year's election - when Wilson was locked in a battle for her political life - are "terribly serious," Cargo said.

"This has the potential to really cripple the (state) Republican Party," he said. "And the way Heather and Pete are handling it, by essentially taking the Fifth (Amendment), isn't helping them."

Joe Monahan has more on the implications for Wilson over at his must-read New Mexico Politics blog:

With Wilson already pinned down by the Iraq war and her close re-election, state Dems were renewing their interest in finding an '08 challenger. The names of ABQ state Rep. Al Park and ABQ state Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino made the rounds. And that will probably be just for starters, if Washington Democrats have their knives properly sharpened.

I admittedly know nothing about the state legislators mentioned by Monahan as having interest in challenging Wilson, but it's a good sign that folks are already lining up to run against her. Wilson should have and probably would have lost her reelection bid in this Democratic-leaning district last year had it not been for a disastrous debate flub by her Democratic challenger, state Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

Even notwithstanding this prosecutor purge story, Wilson would have likely faced an at least credible challenge from the Democrats in 2008. But with this scandal taking root and potentially expanding as Congress follows through on its subpoenas of this week by hearing the testimony of New Mexico's ousted U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, on Tuesday, it may be that New Mexico Democrats aren't going to need to redraw the states congressional districts to further weaken Wilson -- that she may have sealed her fate through her allegedly improper and unethical actions last fall.

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McClatchy Names Wilson, Domenici as Those Who Pressured Prosecutor

Earlier today I noted that most signs pointed to two New Mexico Republicans, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, as the members of Congress who allegedly tried to apply pressure on a United States Attorney to ramp up an investigation of a former Democratic state legislator during the lead up to the 2006 midterms. Now newspaper chain McClatchy has explicitly named the two. Marisa Taylor has the story.

Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico pressured the U.S. attorney in their state to speed up indictments in a federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator, according to two people familiar with the contacts.

The alleged involvement of the two Republican lawmakers raises questions about possible violations of House of Representatives and Senate ethics rules and could taint the criminal investigation into the award of an $82 million courthouse contract.

The two people with knowledge of the incident said Domenici and Wilson intervened in mid-October, when Wilson was in a competitive re-election campaign that she won by 875 votes out of nearly 211,000 cast.

David Iglesias, who stepped down as U.S. attorney in New Mexico on Wednesday, told McClatchy Newspapers that he believed the Bush administration fired him Dec. 7 because he resisted the pressure to rush an indictment.

If this story has the legs it appears to have, it has the potential to not only further decimate the New Mexico Republican Party but also to make it significantly more difficult for Republicans to retake control over either chamber of Congress in 2008.

The New Mexico Republican Party is already in a fairly difficult situation. Last fall they failed to offer much of a challenge to Governor Bill Richardson, their nominee garnering only 31 percent of the vote and carrying a single county, Catron, and winning that one by only five votes. What's more, Republicans are not terribly close to power in either chamber of the state legislature, with the Democrats holding a state House and a 24 to 18 seat majority in the state Senate. In many ways, the last remaining vestige of Republican power in the state come in the form of Domenici's Senate seat and the Congressional seats of Wilson and Steve Pearce. Suffice it to say that if both Wilson and Domenici, who are up in 2008, are not able to run for reelection or are so damaged by this scandal that they cannot win a reelection bid, the Republican Party in the state would find itself almost completely out of power.

But this story does not only have the potential to affect Republicans within New Mexico. Republicans nationally need both Wilson's seat and Domenici's if they harbor any desire to reclaim control over either chamber of Congress next fall. With Domenici out of the picture, the Republicans would have at best a 50 percent shot (and perhaps even significantly lower) at retaining his seat, at the least forcing the NRSC to devote millions to a seat they otherwise might not plan on needing to defend and at most handing the Democrats another pick-up opportunity in a region in which they have performed well in recent Senate elections. Additionally, Republicans looking to win back the House in 2008 have their work cut out for them already, needing to pick up even more seats that the Democrats had to last year in order to win control over the chamber. The loss of this Democratic-leaning seat, which probably would have swund to the Democrats in 2006 had it not been for a major gaffe during a debate late in the campaign, would further complicate the math for the GOP.

And even beyond the races directly affected by this seemingly brewing scandal, the Republican brand nationally could be further tarnished (if such a thing were even possible) by news of the politicization of the United States Attorney's office. We should know a lot more next week when a number of fired prosecutors, including Iglesias and Carol Lam, who led the ongoing charge against imprisoned GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, which reaches into the upper echelons of the CIA and potentially could hit other Republican members of Congress, will speak under oath before a subcommittee hearing in the House. If this story packs even half of the heat that it seems to, it's going to be bad, bad news for the Republican Party.

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Senate 2008: It's Time to Force Pete Domenici into Retirement

I have written for some time that New Mexico's aging Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, should be amond the Democrats' top targets in 2008, not only because his conservative views are way outside of the mainstream -- particularly for a state as balanced politically as New Mexico -- but also because his Jim Bunning-like actions (walking around the Senate in pajama bottoms) raise real questions about his competence to serve another six years. But new questions surrounding the possibility that Domenici abused his office for partisan political reasons should further enlarge the target on the Senator's back. First, the details of the allegations from Paul Kiel over at TPM Muckraker.

Well, our list of suspects just got a whole lot shorter.

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias told McClatchy Newspapers (and The Washington Post) that two members of Congress had called him in mid-October to pressure him about an ongoing corruption investigation of a state Democrat. He refused to identify the lawmakers in any way, because he feared retaliation.

But in comments to the Albuquerque Journal, he was a whole lot more specific. He told the paper that "two members of the New Mexico delegation" had contacted him.

Now, there are only two members of the New Mexico delegation that we haven't heard from: Rep. Heather Wilson (R) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R). And it's not just us. The pair have ducked calls from everyone (a partial list: McClatchy, The Washington Post, the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Tribune). Back in October, Wilson was fighting for her political life in one of the closest races in the country. Domenici, as the state's sole Republican senator, is the White House's state contact for the U.S. attorney in the state -- he would have been originally responsible for Iglesias' nomination and the nomination of his successor.

For a lot more on the story -- and I do mean a lot more -- check out Joe Monahan's coverage out of New Mexico. In short, though, there are serious allegations that Domenici used his position as Senator to try to exert power over a United States Attorney (a Republican appointee) in order to ramp up an investigation of a former Democratic lawmaker in the state, presumably for the gain of the Republican Party. True, this could be viewed as a case of he said, she said. But as Josh Marshall notes over at Talking Points Memo, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey had very glowing things to say about the Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney in question and, what's more, The Washington Post's Dan Eggen writes that Iglesias' work as a defense attorney in the Navy served as the basis of the Tom Cruise film "A Few Good Men" (for whatever that's worth).

But getting beyond the specific details of this story, the headline remains that Domenici potentially used his office for partisan political gain, a big no-no, as it were. And given the possibility that Domenici just might not be up to a heated campaign that not only questions his fitness to serve but also his intentions and trustworthiness, it's incumbent upon the Democrats, both inside New Mexico and those trying to extend the party's majority in the U.S. Senate, to begin to put pressure on Domenici to retire rather than stand for reelection, as he has indicated an intention to do. If this means an investment of $50,000 of $100,000 today for television and newspaper ads throughout New Mexico calling Domenici out for his alleged actions I think it would certainly be worth it.

Additionally the Democrats also need to ramp up their recruitment drive in the state. A number of potential Democratic heavyweights -- Rep. Tom Udall and Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez, to take two examples -- have stated an unwillingness to run for the Senate in 2008 if Domenici were to run for reelection. Yet if they, or other candidates of their potential strength, were to flirt with a run today, they might, along with an ad buy by the DSCC or the Democratic Party of New Mexico, be able to sufficiently scare Domenici so that he decides against seeking another term. There is little potential downside to such a move but great potential upside, and as such there seems to be little reason to me why such a combined effort should not be undertaken at this point.

There's more...

House 2008: Mid-Census Redistricting in New Mexico?

This afternoon Roll Call's Josh Kurtz reports that with solid control of more state legislatures and governorships around the country some Democrats are beginning to think about redrawing congressional districts around the country to help solidify the gains made on November 7 -- and perhaps even create more Democratic-leaning districts.

New Mexico Democrats, frustrated by their inability to defeat Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), now are openly talking about redrawing the state's Congressional district boundaries prior to the 2008 elections.

There are a number of potential political downsides for the Democrats should they opt to redistrict mid-census, whether in New Mexico or elsewhere. The first, and perhaps most important, is appearing to overreach. Voters went to the polls looking for change on November 7 and as a result will have scant patience if Democrats start using the type of strong-arm tactics implemented by Republicans to maintain power over the last dozen years. Secondly, redrawing lines to create more theoretically Democratic districts has the potential to make Democratic support in the remaining districts so thin that the Republicans can come in and challenge previously safe seats, potentially negating any benefits of redistricting. And looking specifically at New Mexico, the first district, in which Republican Heather Wilson narrowly won reelection this fall, has a Democratic-lean to it already. According to the Cook Political Report (.pdf), NM-1 tends to vote about 2 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. If a well known Democrat like this year's nomineee, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, is unable to win in a district this Democratic in a year like this then it's up to the Democratic Party to improve its infrastructure and for party leaders -- Governor and potential 2008 presidential candidate Bill Richardson included -- to get their act together and do what's necessary to win future elections rather than try to change district lines before the next census.

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NM-Sen: On the Map for '08 -- or Not?

While the path to extending the Democratic majority in the United States is most easily traversed in states like Colorado and Minnesota, the opportunity for gains on the order we saw on November 7 would require the Democrats to make a real pass at races that may on their surface appear excessively difficult today but could, with significant effort, be made more competitive.

Take, for instance, New Mexico, where the seat currently held by 74 year-old Republican Senator Pete Domenici will be up in 2008. Domenici has indicated an interest in running for reelection, but that has not stopped many from speculating that in the end he might not. After all, while Domenici has a relatively good relationship with his junior Senator, Jeff Bingaman, who as the ranking member of the Energy Committee will be taking the gavel from Domenici in January, he will no doubt have less clout in the minority than he had in the majority and thus is not quite as enticing as it otherwise might seem.

Domenici does not have a terribly large warchest, with only about $264,000 on hand as of the end of September, though his 68 percent approval rating could scare off potential competitors. One such Democrat, three-term Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, is strongly considering a run -- but only if Domenici doesn't. Yet inside Domenici's rather high approval rating are some notes of caution for the Republican Senator. While his numbers are bouyed by favorable marks from Democrats, who make up a majority of voters in the state, those numbers could and most likely would come down during a contested election. It's also worth noting that Domenici's numbers among Independents are even lower than they are among Democrats.

Looking more broadly at the political environment in the state, although GOP Rep. Heather Wilson was able to pull of a narrow reelection victory this fall, she was (perhaps) only able to do so due to a rather serious flub by her Democratic challenger during a debate late in the campaign. What's more, Democratic Governor Bill Richardson coasted to a 69 percent victory carrying all but one county in the state -- and losing that one by only five votes.

At present, I would not rate New Mexico as one of the best pick-up opportunities for the Democrats in 2008. In fact, I probably wouldn't even rate it in the top-five. That said, if it can be made clear to Sen. Domenici that a) he has little to gain by running for another term, only to end up serving in the minority, and b) that he would face a strong and well-financed challenge from the Democrats, we might be able to cajole him into retiring in grace rather than losing in ignominy. And if we are able to do so, New Mexico will be one of the Democrats' best opportunities for 2008.

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