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Tom Udall has to be feeling smug. He is the New Mexico version of John McCain. Tom is enjoying a leisurely and inexpensive stroll toward the Democratic nomination for United States senator.
You have to believe the New Mexico congressman is taking great delight as he watches his Republican opponents rip one another to shreds. As is true on the national scene with Obama and Clinton, New Mexico’s Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce are digging deep into their pockets trying to make the other look inept.
One would surmise that before the venerable Pete Domenici announced his retirement intention, Heather and Steve were the best of friends.
Now that the two are grappling for the Republican nomination, it is daggers, nasty stares and vitriolic television advertisements. Why does such a race bring out the worst in people?
It’s a great job, that’s why. You rake in $169,300 a year, get a comprehensive health plan, enjoy free world-wide travel junkets and earn excellent retirement benefits. But here’s the kicker. As a congressman, you are somebody. As a senator, you are SOMEBODY.
United States senators embark on such a power trip they sooner or later begin believing their own press. When someone says, God Bless America, they answer, “I don’t have time. Oh – you meant the other God.”
What’s interesting about the Pearce versus Wilson roll in the dirt is there really isn’t that much separating them. They are two ruffians standing at opposite ends of a huge vacant lot throwing rocks at one another. Neither has a good enough arm to hit the target.
About the best poor Heather could do in her first statewide TV blast was to slam Steve for missing an Iraq war funding vote. Pearce missed the vote, his people say, because he was involved in constituent activities. Take that, Ms. Wilson!
Congressman Pearce had started this kerfuffle by criticizing Congresswoman Wilson for missing a vote on illegal immigration. But wait a minute, say the Wilson people. That vote was procedural, not announced in advance. Take that, Mr. Pearce!
It’s schoolyard banter. I have been a better congressional representative for New Mexico than you have. Have not! Have to!
More important than where these two differ is where they stand united. Look no further than the fat cat oil industry. Both Pearce and Wilson in February voted against a bill to raise taxes on the five largest oil companies by $13.6 billion over 10 years, diverting the money to fund tax breaks for development of renewable fuels and to promote energy efficiency.
That single issue, too, might illustrate why Tom Udall would probably rather run against Pearce than Wilson. While both can spout conservative theory at the drop of an ice cube, Wilson is clearly the more moderate of the two.
Pearce most vividly displayed his hardcore right-wing tilt when the big oil tax break was a hot issue as 2007 dawned. The New Mexico congressman got national exposure for disdaining as “San Francisco Democrats” those who wanted to rescind the tax break for oil companies. “The San Francisco Democrats want to run the cars on the road with wind,” The New York Times reported Pearce as saying.
Such colorful rhetoric goes over big in the conservative 2nd District he serves, but come general election time, Mr. Pearce might find he needs a little more wind power to navigate more moderate areas in the state.
Suspicion here is that Tom Udall is sneaking out under cover of darkness and pounding in yard signs for Steve Pearce.
Syndicated columnist Ned Cantwell welcomes response at firstname.lastname@example.org.