Thursday, September 21, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 21, 2006

Just as the 2006 gubernatorial race approached the obligatory debate-over-the-debates phase, Gov. Bill Richardson agreed to one -- but only one -- debate with Republican opponent John Dendahl.

But Amanda Cooper, the governor's re-election campaign manager, said Wednesday that the campaign hasn't decided where and when Richardson will debate.

Not one but two Albuquerque television stations have invited both candidates to hold live televised debates in October. Both stations sent their invitations in July.

News directors of KOB-TV and KOAT-TV say Dendahl has agreed to participate, but Richardson hasn't gotten back to them.

It's not clear whether the single debate to which Richardson has agreed would take advantage of one of these invitations.

KOB's proposed debate would take place Oct. 17 at the Kimo Theatre in Albuquerque, news director Rhonda Aubrey said Tuesday. Each side would be provided tickets for more than 100 supporters.

Questions would come from a panel of reporters and the audience. The candidates also could ask questions of each other. Candidates wouldn't be allowed to bring notes or clipboards with them, though each would be given a blank pad and pens for taking notes.

The proposed KOAT debate, which would be held in conjunction with The Albuquerque Journal, would be held at KOAT's studios.

Some questions would be taken from readers and viewers. (These wouldn't be made available to the candidates in advance.) A panel of political reporters would ask other questions.

Asked Wednesday why he's only debating Dendahl once, Richardson shrugged. ``I agreed to one,'' he said. ``That's enough.''

300-pound chicken: Dendahl charged Tuesday -- before Richardson had agreed to do the one debate -- that the incumbent purposely was dodging him.

``He's stonewalling every attempt at any actual debate,'' Dendahl said. ``He wants the only information that people have to be those nicely scripted infomercials he's paying for so nobody can challenge anything he says.''

Added Dendahl, ``Bill Richardson's gone from being the 800-pound gorilla to the 300-pound chicken.''

The view from 2008: Dendahl, who has been trailing in the polls and in fund-raising, said not appearing in a debate with a challenger could make Richardson look bad if he decides to run for president in 2008.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said in an e-mail: ``Richardson can almost certainly get away with not debating this year if he wants,'' even though it would be ``bad form'' not to. ``Candidates, even incumbents, are expected to debate at least their major-party opponent.''

As for the next presidential election, Sabato said: ``In 2008, I can already see there will be a record number of primary debates, followed by three or four general election debates. So Gov. Richardson ought to do it just for the practice, if nothing else.''

In Focus: While it's not a face-to-face debate, KNME-TV's interview show, In Focus, next week will feature taped 15-minute interviews with both Richardson and Dendahl, producer Kevin McDonald said.

The show will air at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 and 7 a.m. Oct. 1 on Channel 5.

Speaking of polls: If he's a 300-pound chicken, Richardson is bound to be clucking over the latest independent poll on New Mexico political races.

The latest Rasmussen Report shows both Richardson and incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., with lopsided leads.

Richardson, the poll says, leads Dendahl 61 to 26 percent. The organization questioned 500 likely voters in New Mexico on Sept. 7.

In a statement likely to evoke sarcastic outbursts of ``Duh!'' across this state, the Rasmussen Report said on its Web site on Sept. 18: ``A strong showing by Richardson in November likely may bolster his standing as a viable challenger for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.''

This is one poll that shows Richardson above 60 percent, the ``magic'' number that some pundits claim he needs to run a viable presidential race.

A poll conducted for the Albuquerque Journal early this month showed Richardson with 57 percent to Dendahl's 28 percent.

Richardson's favorability rating is 67 percent, according to Rasmussen, compared with Dendahl's 38 percent.

The poll contains evidence that a lot of people simply don't know who Dendahl is. Asked about the Republican's political ideology, the largest number of respondents, 33 percent, said they weren't sure. (I've heard rumors somewhere that he's a conservative.)

In contrast, 49 percent identified Richardson as a ``moderate.''

In the Senate race, Rasmussen has Democrat Bingaman ahead of his GOP opponent Allen McCulloch 56 percent to 32 percent.


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