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          Front Page




'Gnawing' Conscience Forced Domenici's Hand

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    He just couldn't stay out of it.
    Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Saturday that he had intended to remain neutral in the primary election for the GOP nomination to replace him in the Senate. But he said his conscience kept "gnawing" at him to endorse Rep. Heather Wilson.
    Wilson, who represents the 1st Congressional District, is opposed in Tuesday's primary by 2nd Congressional District Rep. Steve Pearce.
    The winner will face Rep. Tom Udall of the 3rd Congressional District, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the November general election.
    Domenici, who will retire early next year after 36 years in the Senate, formally endorsed Wilson, his protégée, Friday night.
    "I don't think there is anything wrong with Pearce. I just think she is better qualified and has a better chance to win (in November)," Domenici told the Journal on Saturday. "I hope I help her."
    In a Journal Poll published today, Pearce led Wilson by 6 percentage points. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
    Pearce, in a statement Saturday, said he expects to win the primary election.
    "I respect Sen. Domenici and look forward to working with him in the future," Pearce said. "Our campaign is in good shape, and we are confident of victory on Tuesday."
    Although Domenici is supporting Wilson, the senator said that, in the general election contest, he will "campaign strenuously for whoever wins" the primary.
    He said he endorsed Wilson in part because he was frustrated with the involvement of an outside special interest group in the primary race.
    "As I traveled around the state, I became more and more aware that Heather Wilson was not being depicted in the way that I know she is," Domenici said.
    "The thing that rancored me most was the major expenditure of money by the Club for Growth," he said. "They are out-of-state people who were having a great influence on who will win the election."
    The Club for Growth, a political action committee that promotes limited government and lower taxes, has run ads in New Mexico criticizing Wilson's support of congressional spending on children's health care and some so-called pork projects.
    Domenici also said Pearce's constant criticism of congressional spending rankled him. Domenici is widely known for bringing billions of dollars home to New Mexico from Washington.
    "Every time I heard him talk about them (budget earmarks), I cringed," he said. "I think we've done some great things with them. To have one of my own running that way did not make me friendly."
    The senator did express some regret about the way he handled the endorsement.
    Domenici first voiced his support for Wilson on Friday afternoon when a TV reporter asked him about the race during an interview in Socorro.
    "It probably could have been done differently," Domenici said. "We could have had a big press conference, but I was asked a question and I spoke my piece."