The Never-Ending Campaign

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
5 min read
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Now that the canvassing board has finished its accounting, the results of the 2006 election have been finalized and the victors at the polls sent off to get to work on behalf of the public good, at last we can get busy with … the 2008 campaign!

This dismal prospect was reinforced by a couple of pieces of information that reached me in recent days.

A friend e-mailed me the latest odds posted on “America’s Line” handicapping the likely 2008 Presidential election winner. As of today, John McCain stands at 9 to 2 as the favorite and Hillary Clinton is the top Democrat at 5 to 1. (Bill Richardson, at 30 to 1 is number eight among the Dems, behind Joe Biden and Wesley Clark but ahead of Condoleeza Rice, Barack Obama and Ralph Nader.)

A respected political pundit told me, just three days after the winners had been declared in the 2006 election, that anyone who expected to run against Heather Wilson or Pete Domenici in 2008 had better be working at it already. And he was licking his lips as he said it.

You might think, having just completed such an all-consuming experience as our “off-year” election cycle, the appetite for matters political might be sated … at least for a few months. Not so. The gossip mills are spinning already, if not at full speed, then at something close to open throttle.

The hair-breadth margin by which Congresswoman Wilson escaped (less than 900 votes out of the 210,000 cast or something like 1/3 of 1%) might encourage a whole new crew of Democratic challengers to take aim at Wilson next time.

But even though she eked by this year, don’t forget this is her
sixth consecutive win in a district with many more registered Democrats than Republicans, so she has proven extremely durable and will not be knocked off easily … unless Martin Chavez were to somehow be persuaded to take the plunge.

Chavez is the one established local politician with the name recognition, the public support and the demonstrated fund-raising ability to become the very first Democrat to ever win election in this Central New Mexico Congressional district.

Is that truly such a fantastic notion?

It does involve an element of risk: Chavez is a virtual shoo-in to get elected mayor again … and again … as long as he chooses. No one seriously believes the term limit ordinance would withstand a challenge in court, much as the term limits for city councilors were swept away a few years ago.

And with the daily newspapers, the business community and the city’s largest campaign contributors all solidly allied with Chavez’ mayoral efforts, no challenger capable of even making a close race of it is on the municipal horizon. The problem is, he’s been there, done that.

He could of course become a
third -term mayor in three years and then from that position seek the governorship when Richardson reaches term limits. But Lt. Governor Diane Denish will be a very tough opponent for the chief executive post. She is probably the early favorite.

Even so, if Chavez did lose the state executive race to Denish, he could retain the mayorship, a huge safety net for him; he’d still be prominent on the second largest stage in the state.

Nevertheless, the challenge of stepping up to the congressional seat and a national issue focus
has to be at least a little bit tantalizing. Furthermore, the even juicier plum of the U.S. Senate seat would definitely be enough to induce the mayor to throw his hat into the ring … if Domenici retires.

That rumor is again circulating in the drafty regions of New Mexico’s political blogosphere, fueled by Senator Pete’s name having been included in a
Meet the Press review of current Senators who are considering leaving Capitol Hill.

His health seems to have stabilized (who would know if it hadn’t?), but he recently cruised past the
thirty-five year mark in Senate service, and even Strom Thurmond eventually threw in the towel, so you gotta wonder if this might be the occasion he chooses to finally step aside.

That would set in motion an incredible feeding frenzy: all three current New Mexicans in the House of Representatives would likely try to make the move up … and that could vacate all three Congressional District seats of incumbents. Lots of possibilities in that crazy musical chairs scenario, with Mayor Chavez possibly going for Wilson’s vacated seat or even becoming a fourth heavyweight contender slugging it out for the Senate prize.

Plus, don’t forget Patricia Madrid ran a very strong race and could still harbor ambitions for higher office. And the Supreme Court has opened the door to the Legislature redrawing congressional districts anytime it decides to, another wild card in the mix.

All of this makes for delicious hot-stove league gossip about possibilities and options that can be expected to churn for months to come, at least until Domenici makes his intentions known. If he runs, Chavez has already indicated he would support, not challenge, him (a peculiar but understandable sentiment) and the role of loyal opposition/sacrificial lamb suddenly becomes a whole lot less-attractive.

We never lack for energy in New Mexico’s favorite sport, our unending carousel of politics. What
is missing usually is any real urgency about issues . Personalities may be fun to focus on, but the policies that impact them are what will make any difference in our lives.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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