By Ned Cantwell
The presidential primary season consists of a series of political contests only a little less organized than the election to decide who will be junior class historian at Clovis High School.
And New Mexico is right in the thick of it. Well, at least not at the rear of it, thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson who pushed through the program to establish a February Democratic caucus to take the place of the June primary.
On Feb. 3, 481,000 registered Democrats are eligible to let the world know which one of the eight candidates seeking favor in the Land of Enchantment should contest President George Bush in the November general election.
Seven of the eight Democratic candidates, just about all of whom have shown their great concern for our state by personally visiting our rich people in order to get more campaign funds, trumpet a strong, persuasive message.
The message is this: “Howard Dean is way out of step with America and he can’t beat Bush, so you had better vote for me.”
That message does not, as pedantic political pundits like to say, “resonate” with the unsophisticated voters of our state. We are so unsophisticated that we think these candidates ought to have more positive ideas of their own.
Howard Dean was a virtual political unknown as governor of the tiny state of Vermont and his stunning rise to political prominence has many in the nation considering their own political horizons, not the least of which is Gov. Richardson of the tiny state of New Mexico who does not start out as an unknown.
Dean’s calling card is a certain brashness. He is the Howard Cosell of modern politics. Rather refreshing is his refusal to haul Mrs. Dean around the country as a political prop which, he infers, the others do.
The Vermont doctor’s penchant for shooting from the hip more often than not provides ample fodder for his critics. A chorus of denouncements erupted when Dean proclaimed, following the capture of Saddam Hussein, that America was no safer from terrorists.
Those critics had plenty of time to respond to the Dean charge, grounded, as they were, at various airports after their flights had been canceled because of suspected terrorist activity.
Richardson pushed the February caucus by arguing, with some logic, it makes little sense to have an election in June after other states had already voted and the national nominee was a foregone conclusion. It’s kind of like deciding where to eat after all the restaurants are shut down for the night.
Not everyone believes this will give New Mexico a larger voice. Pat Madrid, New Mexico attorney general, says the voice will be but a whisper. She calls the Richardson idea ill-conceived and predicts only 10 percent of Democrats, or about 48,000, will show up to vote. In the 2002 primary, she remembers, 30 percent of Demos took part.
This turns out to be a contest between Madrid, who, incidentally, may have her eye on the governor’s job, and Richardson, who is not used to people challenging him. And that clash may be a lot more interesting than the caucus itself.