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  •   GOP Spends $1 Million to Hold N.M. Seat

    Campaign '98

    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 25, 1998; Page A06

    The Republican Party poured an unprecedented $1 million into Tuesday's New Mexico special election to defeat a multimillionaire Democrat and retain a House seat that Democrats hoped would propel them toward regaining control of the House in November.

    Aided by a strong finish on the part of the pro-environmental Green Party candidate, Republican Heather Wilson defeated Democrat Phil Maloof with 45 percent of the vote. Maloof finished with about 39 percent, according to official but incomplete results. The turnout was close to 40 percent, state officials said.

    Wilson's victory gives the GOP a much-needed psychological boost but otherwise keeps the congressional tally at 228 Republicans to 206 Democrats and 1 independent.

    "The number is still 11," said Rep. Martin Frost (Tex.), the Democrats' top congressional campaign strategist, referring to seats his party must win in November to reclaim the House. The outcome also ensures a heated, expensive fall rematch in the Albuquerque-based 1st District.

    Experts in Washington and New Mexico were still analyzing the results yesterday but said a few obvious conclusions could be drawn from the brutal month-long contest for the seat of Rep. Steven Schiff (R), who died of skin cancer in March.

    For Democrats, who hoped state Sen. Maloof would be able to spend his way to victory, the election once again illustrated the Republican Party's deep pockets. In addition to the $1 million Wilson received from various GOP committees, she raised $1.5 million. Maloof, who spent about $1.5 million of his family fortune, benefited from about $1 million from other sources ranging from the party to a pro-term limits group.

    Although other House candidates such as Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and millionaire California Republican Michael Huffington have spent more on their races, the infusion of party money was a record, said Ed Brookover, political director of the National Republican Campaign Committee. Last fall, the GOP spent $800,000 on the special election of Rep. Vito Fossella in New York.

    Some analysts said New Mexicans, in giving a whopping 15 percent to little-known Green candidate Bob Anderson, sent a message Tuesday that they did not condone the vicious tenor of the campaign orchestrated by hired guns out of Washington.

    "All the negative ads lowered support for the two major party candidates," said F. Chris Garcia, a University of New Mexico political scientist. "I thought people would either stay home or vote for the Green."

    Mark Gersh, a consultant to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Anderson siphoned enough votes from Maloof to hand Wilson a victory. But Wilson's pollster, Glen Bolger, said many of the people who supported Anderson would not have voted at all.

    Environmentalists quickly seized on the results as evidence the Democratic Party ignores them at its peril. "If Democrats were a little more progressive they could have won," said activist Ralph Nader.

    Sierra Club political director Daniel J. Weiss, said his group endorsed Maloof but was disappointed the Democrat did not talk more about environmental issues. In fact, during a debate last week, when asked about programs to protect the Mexican gray wolf and spotted owl, Maloof noted that camping is "something I really enjoy."

    Wilson, a Rhodes scholar and former arms control negotiator, fared better than Maloof with white men (27 percentage points) and white women (15 percentage points) but lost the Hispanic vote, according to Bolger. Gingrich planned to swear her into office today.

    Three other states held elections Tuesday that were largely intraparty squabbles. In a divisive Republican primary runoff for the Mississippi seat to replace Rep. Mike Parker (R), attorney Delbert Hosemann overcame a series of attacks to defeat Phillip Davis. The Democrat, Ronnie Shows, is a conservative described as fitting the 4th District well enough to perhaps win back the seat for his party.

    In South Carolina's 4th District, state Sen. Mike Fair, the Republican preferred by the Christian right and managed by consultant Ralph Reed, was defeated by businessman Jim DeMint. The seat, being vacated by Rep. Bob Inglis (R), is considered a strong Republican district.

    Utah Rep. Chris Cannon (R) easily won his primary runoff, guaranteeing his return to Congress next year.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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