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Udall Finds Early Support

By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
    Northern New Mexico congressman and potential U.S. Senate candidate Tom Udall got rock-star treatment during a brief stop at a meeting of state Democratic activists Saturday in Albuquerque.
    The 3rd Congressional District representative was greeted with raucous applause, chants of "run, Tom, run!" and a throng of backers eager to chat him up or shake hands.
    Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez, who's already announced that he will seek the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pete Domenici next year, also got a warm welcome at the Democratic meeting, but not quite as noisy as Udall's, some observers agreed.
    Many hoisted Chávez campaign signs and chanted "Marty! Marty!" when Chávez stepped to the front of the auditorium to make a short speech.
    Chávez argued the need for change in Washington.
    "There's nothing wrong with New Mexico. But there's a lot wrong with Washington, D.C.," Chávez said. "We voted for change. ... And we've not had any change."
    Three lesser-known Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate— Don Wiviott, Jim Hannan and Leland Lehrman— also spoke at the convention on Saturday.
    Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce of the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts have announced they will seek the nomination for the Senate seat on the Republican side.
    About 300 state Democratic Party central committee members and guests attended the meeting in Albuquerque on Saturday.
    Udall didn't utter the words that many apparently wanted to hear inside the hot, crowded auditorium at Central New Mexico Community College: That he was officially declaring a 2008 Senate bid.
    But Udall said he will make his decision in as few as two weeks, and he came close to sounding like a candidate when he argued the need for boosting the number of Democrats in the Senate.
    "I'm not here today to announce. But I'm here to listen. I'm so enormously encouraged," Udall said.
    Udall, in a brief interview, declined to comment on whether he's had any conversations with Gov. Bill Richardson, who some believe might jump into the Senate race if his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is derailed early next year.
    But Richardson has repeatedly said he's not interested in the Senate seat being vacated by Domenici, and Udall said that in his opinion, Richardson "has definitively taken himself out of this race."
    Udall's reconsideration of a Senate bid— something he initially ruled out— is one of the latest developments in an epic New Mexico political shakeup that began last month, when Domenici announced he would not seek a seventh term as he battles a progressive brain disease.
    Chávez said after his speech that he has no plans to bow out if Udall jumps in.
    When asked whether a contested primary would be good or bad for the Democratic Party, Chávez said, "It doesn't matter whether it's good or bad ... You can't roll up your sleeves while you wring your hands. I rolled up my sleeves."
    Some central committee members at Saturday's meeting said they don't see a contested primary as a detriment.
    "We need choices," said Elva Santos of Albuquerque. "Hopefully, it'll bring more people out to vote."


E-MAIL writer Jeff Jones