Domenici’s exit roils N.M. outlook in ’08

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is expected to announce Thursday that he will not run for a seventh term in 2008, according to sources close to Domenici’s office.

Domenici’s retirement would make him the fourth Republican senator to bow out this cycle, joining Sens. Wayne Allard (Colo.), John Warner (Va.) and Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelWhite House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip MORE (Neb.). Competitive races in those seats are likely, and New Mexico should be no different.

Domenici’s retirement also would open up a Pandora’s Box in the state’s congressional delegation, as all three of its House members are considered potential candidates for his seat: Reps. Heather Wilson (R), Steve Pearce (R) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Defense Department says "forever chemical" cleanup costs will dwarf earlier estimates Senators from both parties offer resolution to nix Trump emergency declaration to build wall MORE (D).

The 75-year-old Domenici has battled health issues in recent years and has faced questions about his role in the recent U.S. attorney firings scandal.

His announcement is set for 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time at St. Mary’s School in Albuquerque, the sources said.

Initially considered a potential retiree after Democrats took control of Congress last year, questions about Domenici’s reelection grew louder after New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias came forward in March with allegations that Domenici and Wilson contacted him to urge speedier prosecution of public corruption cases.

Iglesias testified that he felt pressured by the calls, which came last fall at the peak of Wilson’s reelection battle against New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D).
Though the U.S. attorney flap has largely died down in Congress, it loomed as potential fodder for any Democrat seeking to take on Domenici next year. And despite strong reelection numbers throughout his career, he has recently seen his approval rating drop to about 50 percent in the polls.

Similarly, Wilson’s role in the complaints that led to Iglesias’s firing marks a significant vulnerability for her, should Domenici’s longtime protégé enter the race to replace him.

Madrid, who fell narrowly to Wilson, is considered another potential candidate for the seat, as are Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (D) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D). Iglesias himself has been mentioned as a long-shot candidate.

Richardson currently is running for president, though, and his campaign reiterated Wednesday evening that the governor would not drop out of the White House race to run for the Senate seat, regardless of Domenici’s retirement.

“If this is true, it doesn’t change anything,” Richardson spokesman Tom Reynolds said. “He’s running for president and confident about winning.”

Businessman and political unknown Don Wiviott (D) is already running for the seat. He had plugged $400,000 of his own money into his campaign as of June 30.

The state is a presidential battleground — President Bush won it 50–49 in 2004 after losing it by just 400 votes in 2000 — and should make for a tight race regardless of who runs on either side.

Domenici’s retirement also opens the ranking member slot on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he has long aided his home state alongside now-Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D).

Sen. Larry Craig is the second-ranking Republican on the panel, but the Idahoan faces his own uphill battle should he consider seeking reelection amid a nationally known sex scandal. Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann Murkowski The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (Alaska) and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE (Ala.) are other senior Republicans in the mix on the committee.

Sam Youngman contributed to this report.