Sometimes there’s just too much information floating around to comfortably digest. In recent days I’ve felt a bit like a diabetic in a candy factory.
As a political junky, I tend to gorge myself on rumor, political gossip, sheer fantasy or fabrication, and even the occasional fact. All those varied dessert menus have been full of temptation lately.
Whenever the political pot is boiling this merrily in New Mexico, bingeing becomes commonplace. While this can’t be healthy a full 14 months before the next General Election, even organic food faddists are entitled to the occasional sugary tidbit, aren’t they?
Last night a Republican friend shared with me that he’d heard a group of “young Turk Democrats” was organizing to systematically challenge incumbent Democratic legislators in next spring’s primaries, seeking in the process to move the party significantly to the left. He could scarcely contain his glee at the prospect.
He remembered all too well the convulsions within the Republican Party when, a couple of election cycles ago, doctrinal purists engaged in similar internecine warfare during GOP primary campaigns. The wounds inflicted in that process have not healed yet in many Republican districts and my Republican friend is clearly looking forward to watching the Democrats engage in the same sort of destructive cannibalism.
He might be correct. Challenging incumbents is never easy and rarely successful. And if you come close enough to wound the old bull but don’t take him out, you may simply have created an angry old bull who is now a determined enemy … of you and your pet projects or positions.
Even when a challenger succeeds, it creates opportunities for the opposing party. The outgoing legislator will have had far more seniority and experience in maneuvering the lawmaking maze than the newcomer will start with, so in the short-term the opposition will be able to post more successes than would otherwise have fallen in their grasp.
And yet I can’t help thinking the dynamic could be very different for Democrats from the way it played out for Republicans. This shaking up of the cast of characters could actually be a sign of vitality and energy for Democrats, while for Republicans it appears to be typically experienced as an unseemly rebelliousness in the ranks.
Consider that while Republicans rarely have contested races at any level within the state (and are usually hard-pressed to stir up even one warm-body candidate for many positions), most of the time the Democrats have a surfeit of eager aspirants. So Democrats seem to embrace crowded ballots and usually aren’t as bothered by someone strolling in out of left field to wage a long-shot run as Republicans.
Where Republicans typically read such Quixotes as dangerous rebels, Democrats are more likely to see tilting-at-windmill campaigns as “test flights” or “trial balloons” and to smile condescendingly on them.
Thus we may see some additional primary challenges to incumbent legislators in the next cycle, but that isn’t necessarily negative. Having to revisit your stance on controversial issues and spend time listening to the voters is probably valuable work for any elected official, even if it can be annoying to have your votes second-guessed.
There’s another titillating rumor making the rounds. This one has to do with Sen. Domenici and his health. No one questions his warrior heart, his willingness to do battle or his success over the years, especially in securing funds for New Mexico projects. But increasingly I hear people wonder out loud if he might not opt to retire rather than go through the rigors of a closely contested race.
The key is that none of the several Democrats who have announced so far seem capable of waging a close contest and forcing such a decision.
Pete could easily repeat his performance of six years ago when he scarcely made a public appearance on the campaign trail, avoided any debates or bipartisan forums and still won handily—unless he were to be tested by someone with stronger credentials than the current crop of challengers.
But do any of the potential “strong” Democratic challengers want to risk announcing for Domenici’s Senate seat anticipating he would then likely bow out—only to discover that he’s decided he won’t go away quietly and instead will revert to previous form as a dogged, tireless campaigner? Apparently, not yet.
Instead the Democratic strategists content themselves studying the senator’s public utterances and appearances with the careful diligence that the CIA gives to the parsing of Iranian governmental press releases, searching intently for hidden meanings and clues to his true intentions.
Let me share a politico/poker fantasy I enjoy. U.S. Rep. Tom Udall (or Martin Chavez or Bill Richardson) says, essentially, “Let’s call his bluff,” and announces for the Senate seat Domenici now holds. Domenici thinks it over, consults with his family and folds. Now all the chips are in play around the table.
Heather Wilson deals herself in (she’s been traveling rural New Mexico lately, far beyond the boundaries of her Congressional District); so does Steve Pearce, the current southern district congressman. Suddenly all three of our congressional seats and the Senate seat are wide open with new hands quickly being dealt as additional players try to crowd in.
I know, I know. That’s purest fantasy; highly unlikely. But it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it--positively mouth-watering?