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« How's This For Confidence | Blog Home Page | Undecideds Win Big In SC Poll »

Nothing's Easy For NM GOP

There were few bright spots for Republicans in 2006, but Heather Wilson was perhaps the biggest. The five-term incumbent survived a challenge from New Mexico's Attorney General by a narrow 875-vote margin, keeping a moderate Albuquerque-based district in GOP hands.

This year, Wilson is vacating her seat to run for the Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. The race to replace her in the House is not one the GOP wants to fight: John Kerry and Al Gore both won the district, by 9,000 and 3,000 votes, respectively. Nearly half the district is made up of Hispanic voters, who of late have been trending toward the Democratic Party at a much faster clip.

But the NRCC got good news when Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White jumped into the race. The popular Republican, elected in a Democratic county, quickly released a poll showing him leading both Patricia Madrid, the ex-AG who lost to Wilson in '06, and Albuquerque City Councilmember Martin Heinrich by double digits.

Nothing, though, goes completely right for the GOP this year. The Associated Press reported yesterday that New Mexico State Sen. Joe Carraro plans to join the race for the seat, taking on White in a GOP primary. Carraro's Senate district covers parts of western Bernallilo County, on the western edge of the Congressional district's boundaries. Carraro established an exploratory committee earlier this month, and while some had speculated that he might drop his campaign to run for re-election instead, he insists he's running for Wilson's seat.

Carraro told New Mexico political analyst Joe Monahan that he sees the Iraq war and immigration as two top issues. The senator will have to earn 20% of the vote at a pre-primary convention in March in order to qualify for the ballot and give White real problems. But Carraro apparently doesn't plan on following Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. He told New Mexico political watcher Heath Haussamen that, while White has the state GOP behind him, Carraro hopes business interests will join his campaign "to make sure that we have someone running for Congress that knows what they're doing -- no disrespect."

Still, Monahan considers White the front-runner. National Republicans have no plans to get involved, according to NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. "The NRCC does not pre-primary endorse. We trust local Republicans to decide on who they think would make the best nominee in the general election," he told Politics Nation. "With that being said, we are confident the seat will remain in Republican hands."

Democrats face a contested primary as well, as Heinrich will face off with former state Health Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham and Bryon Paez, a lobbyist and former state cabinet affairs director. Lujan Grisham and White are generating the most excitement among their parties, and a face off between the two would be a close contest.

Domenici's retirement not only attracted Wilson as a candidate, but won over Reps. Steve Pearce and Tom Udall as well. Udall's seat is likely to stay safely in Democratic hands, but Republican Pearce's southern Second District will be a target for Democrats. So far, three well-known Democrats have announced their intentions to run for the seat, as has wealthy businessman and rancher Ed Tinsley, a Republican who ran against Pearce in 2002. Several Republican state legislators are considering their own campaigns, but none has stepped forward yet. Stay tuned for more on that race.