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 HagelWhile our foes deploy hypersonic weapons, Washington debates about funding Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers National security leaders, advocacy groups urge Congress to send election funds to states 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 UdallLWCF modernization: Restoring the promise OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency 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 MurkowskiEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (Alaska) and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRoy Moore sues Alabama over COVID-19 restrictions GOP set to release controversial Biden report Trump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs MORE (Ala.) are other senior Republicans in the mix on the committee.

Sam Youngman contributed to this report.