You have to feel for Col. Allen Weh, the state Republican Party Chairman. He's got almost everything you could possibly need for electoral success on his team.
He's got money, volunteers, organization, offers of help from highly placed GOP strategists in Washington; but none of it has done much good lately. Because, incredibly, the New Mexico Republican Party, awash in cash, is poor in perhaps the most important account: candidates.
Weh's Democratic counterpart, John Wertheim, never has to go to sleep bothered by a similar lack of warm bodies. The Democrats are flush with campaigners. Jeff Bingaman is a formidable U.S. Senate candidate to head the ticket next year and Bill Richardson will be unbeatable in the governor's race as he builds momentum for a serious run after the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
Half-a-dozen Democrats are milling around the attorney general's race and similar queues are forming to file for state land commissioner. If candidates were cash, the New Mexico Democratic Party would rival Bill Gates.
Even when it comes to challengers for undefeated Heather Wilson's seat in Congress, the Democrats don't lack for contenders. They may not unseat her, once again, but it won't be for lack of eager aspirants.
Yet poor Weh is reduced to making furtive phone calls during evening hours, searching for a volunteer willing to take a bullet so the Grand Old Party can avoid the ignominy of having Bingaman, Richardson and even Mayor Martin Chavez waltz to reelection without Republican opposition.
It must be a recurring nightmare for the colonel that even the Greens might one day out-poll one of his unknown, sacrificial lamb party loyalists in a major race.
The dearth of Republicans willing to throw themselves on the grenade against Richardson and Bingaman isn't surprising. Those two worthies have proven themselves again and again and aren't likely to lose, no matter who the opposition is. But the case of the Albuquerque mayoral race is much more perplexing.
This is nominally a nonpartisan election. But its very free-for-all characteristic ought to make it particularly attractive for a Republican. Here is clearly a position that could be won by a GOP partisan. And once gained, the patronage that goes with the 11th floor of City Hall could be leveraged into a Republican dynasty in this city.
In the last election, a Republican, Bob Schwartz, came within a percentage point or two of knocking off Marty Chavez. He actually would have won if his party, in a suicidal maneuver impossible to explain, hadn't thrown its considerable influence behind a second Republican, the charisma-deficient City Councilor/Air Traffic Controller Mike McEntee. And in that race there was another candidate attractive to business interests (albeit a registered Democrat), Rick Homans, siphoning off support that might otherwise have gone to Schwartz.
In other words, the Republicans' enormous weakness, their tiny store of viable candidates, could work to their advantage in a mayoral melée where the more runners there are sprinting for the finish line, the crazier the outcome. A single Republican, running with party support against a field of several Democrats, an Independent or two and maybe a Green or a Peace and Freedom candidate thrown in for good measure, would have a very good chance of capturing one of the runoff positions. Heck, he or she could even have a shot at winning the 40 percent that would avoid a runoff.
Mayor Chavez has lots of money in his war chest and the development community is hanging onto his coattails with all its considerable muscle. But his record is mostly one of hyperactive photo-opportunism punctuated by major fumbles that the daily press seems willing to overlook (the ABQPAC ethics scandal, the APD evidence room fiasco, the Downtown sports arena flub), but which the voters may not.
A single Republican candidate in a field crowded with Democrats (Chavez, Eric Griego, Alan Armijo, David Steele and Judy Espinosa are already planning runs) could slip under the wire ahead of them all.
Of course, the reason the Republicans have such a hard time finding candidates is that they are taught from their mother's knee that government is not to be trusted and that real Republicans ought to avoid it like the plague. Besides, there is a lot of money to be made outside government and very little inside it, so it shouldn't be a surprise that young, ambitious Republicans consider running for office a sacrifice, not an opportunity.
Still, the vision of City Hall dangling like an overripe fruit within easy reach ought to be tormenting Col. Weh. His party can't beat Bill Richardson or Jeff Bingaman, but if they were to put the energy into winning Albuquerque's mayoral race that they'd waste on those other two, they could have a prize upon which they would be able to build a very powerful enterprise. City government could become the training ground for future Republican candidates.