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Damron Says Choice to Quit Was His

By Jeff Jones
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE— Former Republican gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron said Monday he decided to bow out of the race last week after former state GOP chairman John Dendahl offered to replace him on the ticket.
    Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist and political newcomer, said Dendahl's offer— combined with Damron's belief that Dendahl could do a better job delivering the GOP's message— prompted him to withdraw his candidacy Friday.
    That cleared the way for the party's Central Committee to nominate Dendahl for the spot the following day.
    "I wasn't pressured," Damron said during an interview in his empty Santa Fe campaign office Monday. "We felt this campaign needed to go up another notch. John (Dendahl) is a very articulate person. John is very bulldogish. He will go toe-to-toe" with incumbent Gov. Bill Richardson.
    Damron said dropping out of the race was a tough decision. But he acknowledged his campaign "didn't have enough spark"— the same concern others in the party had raised in recent weeks.
    Damron's wife, Barbara Damron, added, "In this campaign, we came to realize it's going to take (someone) ... who has a long political history, who is willing to get bloodier than we would be."
    The Damrons said, despite reports to the contrary, family or personal matters played no role in the decision to step aside.
    "We expected to go all the way to the finish line," Damron said.
    Dendahl, meanwhile, said Monday during a telephone interview from his Santa Fe home that some of his first priorities as the new GOP gubernatorial candidate include raising seed money for his campaign and building a campaign staff.
    He's got his financial work cut out for him: Richardson, who is seeking re-election to a second term, recently reported a campaign cash balance of $5.7 million and has kicked off a TV advertising campaign.
    Dendahl said he expects to get financial help from national Republican interests and added he'll likely set up shop in Damron's former Santa Fe campaign office.
    He said he has a political action committee that can begin accepting donations; the committee was set up for his failed 1994 bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
    Damron had announced his candidacy in October. But his campaign was off the political radar through much of this spring, and current state GOP chairman Allen Weh earlier this month said Damron "certainly needs to be a more active candidate than he has been."
    Damron, at that time, vowed to kick his campaigning up a notch and announced he'd taken a leave of absence from his medical practice to do just that.
    The Damrons said Monday they were in full campaign mode as of early last week. But that changed after Dendahl, a longtime friend, telephoned and met with them Wednesday.
    Barbara Damron said Dendahl told them of rumors the Damrons had already heard: that the Damron campaign wasn't "moving along like it should" and that someone else should be on the gubernatorial ticket.
    "(Dendahl) said, 'I'm willing to step to the plate,' '' Barbara Damron said.
    The Damrons said they met later Wednesday in Albuquerque with Dendahl, Weh and Marta Kramer, state GOP executive director. The couple made the decision to bow out that day and informed the state party of the decision Friday.
    The Damrons said they met with the GOP's lieutenant governor candidate Sue Wilson Beffort on Friday. Beffort, a state senator from Sandia Park, said she wanted to remain on the ticket, the Damrons said.
    The Richardson camp was quick to tee off on the new candidate: Richardson campaign chairman Dave Contarino after Saturday's move called Dendahl a "partisan, negative bomb-thrower."
    Dendahl said Monday he's not a bomb-thrower but added he won't be pulling any punches in his campaign.