Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jun 2006
Source: Beaufort Gazette, The (SC)
Copyright: 2006 The Beaufort Gazette
Author: Tim Korte, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Gary Johnson)


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.  - It looked like Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson 
would coast toward re-election until Saturday when his little-known 
Republican opponent dropped out of the race and the GOP named a more 
aggressive candidate.

J.R. Damron, who had no ballot opposition in this month's primary 
election, never got much traction in his campaign and was so far 
behind Richardson in fundraising that some GOP insiders questioned 
whether he could compete against the popular incumbent.

The Santa Fe radiologist who has never held elected office addressed 
delegates at the Republican State Central Committee meeting and left 
without talking with reporters.

About 100 party members from across the state then gave a unanimous 
voice vote to support former state GOP chairman John Dendahl to take 
Damron's place.

While Dendahl, 67, has upset Democrats and even some in his own party 
with his aggressive tactics in campaigns, his outspoken sense of 
style may be what Republicans need to challenge Richardson who is 
considered to be a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.

Dendahl, a cross-country skier in the 1960 Winter Olympics, rejected 
suggestions he was merely filling out the GOP ticket, expressing 
confidence he'll be able to raise money quickly and wage a credible campaign.

"I don't take on any battles in athletics or in anything else without 
intending to win," Dendahl said. "I acknowledge Bill Richardson is a 
very formidable opponent. He will have an enormous amount of money."

It will take a lot of effort to catch up to the $5.7 million cash 
balance Richardson reported at the end of May. Damron had reported 
$43,827 in reserves.

Richardson's campaign chairman, Dave Contarino, said Dendahl's 
candidacy makes no difference to Richardson.

"It seems almost like that's why (Dendahl's) in the race - to throw 
as much mud as possible at Richardson because he assumes, just as 
everyone else, that there's this presidential race in the future," 
Contarino said.

In a statement released later Saturday, Damron said the new candidate 
"needs to engage Richardson in a decisive, bull-doggish manner to 
bring out all of his many deficient, negative and duplicitous 
characteristics, and highlight Richardson's self-serving, abusive 
treatment of New Mexicans."

Dendahl said Richardson has "done a lot to curry favor with people in 
New Mexico, but he's also done a lot to anger people in New Mexico."

Dendahl, a businessman, finished third in a four-way GOP primary for 
governor in 1994, getting 19 percent or 18,007 votes. He served as 
chairman of the state Republican Party from late 1994 until May 2003.

He ran into trouble within GOP circles for expressing support for 
former Gov. Gary Johnson's proposed drug policy changes, such as 
decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"It's obvious the Republican Party is in disarray when they put John 
Dendahl in the governor's race," state Democratic Party chairman John 
Wertheim said Saturday.

"He is a known obstructionist whose views are outside the mainstream, 
such as on drug legalization," Wertheim said. "The candidates could 
not be in greater contrast."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman