Congressional Campaign a Dead Heat
Jun. 20, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hoping to tip the scales in a critical race, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tipper Gore will lead a parade of Democratic heavyweights into a New Mexico congressional campaign that is generating bare-knuckled eleventh-hour tactics.
Republicans are countering with $1 million in help from Washington and an appearance by House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.
This star-studded cast of surrogates underscores the importance of the race to replace Republican Rep. Steven Schiff, who died in March. The winning party heads into November's election season with momentum.
Internal polls by both parties suggest the race was a dead heat between millionaire Democrat Phil Maloof and Republican Heather Wilson. A Green Party candidate was a potential spoiler with solid double-digit support in most polls. The presence of a Green Party candidate in another New Mexico district gave Republicans an upset victory last year.
Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Gore will join House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and Democratic Reps. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Loretta Sanchez of California to campaign this weekend for Maloof. His advisers hope the special appearances will rally Democratic voters to the polls.
Scheduling Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Gore and Sanchez also was a concession to surveys that indicate a bulk of undecided voters are women. Maloof hopes that Sanchez draws Hispanic voters, who made up 38 percent of the voting population in 1990.
Armey is keeping a long-scheduled fund-raising date for Wilson this weekend. Texas Gov. George Bush, attending a fund-raiser Friday for Gov. Gary Johnson in New Mexico, was not planning a separate appearance for the congressional candidate. Bush, though, said he made 50 calls to prospective Wilson supporters.
``I hope she wins. I was very impressed with her. She is very intelligent,'' Bush said.
Still, with Maloof calling the New Hampshire native a ``carpetbagger,'' Wilson didn't want too much outside help, said a senior GOP adviser who requested anonymity.
Yet she has received plenty of Washington money. Wilson's campaign has benefited from more than $1 million in contributions from GOP lawmakers, state parties and national committees _ all coordinated by Republican leaders in Washington, according to the aide.
Democratic Party officials say the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent about $300,000 to the state party, which purchased ads that criticized Wilson. Maloof, who has lent his own campaign well more than $800,000, hasn't needed much national money.
The Democrat could afford to send videocassettes of a controversial news story to 20,000 to 50,000 likely voters _ mostly women. The 1996 local TV report questioned whether Wilson had improperly moved foster parent records concerning her family while she ran the agency in charge of foster care.
The story was edited into a hard-hitting TV commercial that caused Wilson's poll numbers to drop. Her campaign has called the ad a distortion.
``We're going to let the public make the decision about what they feel about the tape,'' said Tom Hujar, Maloof's media consultant. The ads began arriving in mailboxes Friday.
In a last-minute pitch for the Republican candidate, popular New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici recorded an endorsement that was playing for 80,000 state residents who were automatically dialed by the Wilson campaign.
Calling her ``one of the most honorable and courageous woman'' to serve the state, the senator said, ``Don't let Heather become a victim of a vicious smear campaign.''
Wilson's campaign, which has questioned whether Maloof had the credentials to be a congressman, hoped to benefit from his weak debate performance Thursday. Caught off guard by a question about spotted owls, the Democrat was reprimanded by the moderator for straying from the question.