When Gov. Bill Richardson announced on Jan. 10 that he was leaving the presidential race, the Obama and Clinton campaigns had only 3½ weeks to compete for this swing state’s primary caucus. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was immediately tapped to chair Clinton’s state campaign and, under her leadership, Clinton won New Mexico by 1,076 votes, a virtually even delegate split. Going into the convention as the face of Hillary’s New Mexico campaign, superdelegate Denish concedes that 2008 is Obama’s year.
SFR: Everything changed when Richardson dropped out. How were you chosen to chair Clinton’s campaign?
DD: If the governor wasn’t going to be successful, she was always my next choice. I spoke with both Sen. Clinton and President Clinton during that process, so I was anxious to help because I thought, one, I would like to have seen not only a woman president in my lifetime but I would like to have to seen Hillary Clinton be president in my lifetime. The second thing is I thought she had a connection to New Mexico, unlike Obama, because he’s newer, younger. The Clintons understand the value of the West; they never ignored us when [Bill Clinton] ran and I think that was important to me personally as an elected leader.
You didn’t have much time to really get a campaign up and going here. What was the strategy?
You know, our primary responsibility was to get elected leaders on board, to help raise money and to work with Hillary’s national campaign. We got a lot of elected leaders on board—State Auditor Hector Balderas, mayors around the state—and, frankly, we left the organizing primarily to people that were coming in from the other states.
The vote was split pretty closely in the end. Was that a surprise?
No. I think Obama’s campaign took on a life of [its own] nationally. New Mexicans were just as susceptible to that. He’s exciting. He’s a great orator. He’s smart. He’s got some new ideas for the country. He represents a lot of things that I think people are looking for in 2008.
After the election, a legal battle broke out over the delegates appointed by [Democratic] Party Chairman Brian Colón, an undeclared Obama supporter. For a while there, things were tense between the Clinton and Obama camps. How did you interpret it?
Until the final results were in, in June, I think both camps were fighting very hard to make sure they had as many delegates [as possible] and that they were treated fairly by state party chairs, who were acting in a neutral capacity. I think that just creates a natural tension because as long as both people feel mistreated, the chairs are probably doing what they’re supposed to do. But if anybody feels like they’re being specially treated, maybe there is some favoritism.
Is the New Mexico delegation to the convention a Clinton delegation or an Obama delegation?
Now we’re an Obama delegation, except for those who are pledged Hillary delegates. But I think we all know that Obama is the nominee. We have not been asked by Sen. Clinton to pursue anything to her benefit. I feel like we’re going as a very united delegation.
Is there any resentment between the Clinton and Obama camps in New Mexico?
I would not be honest if I didn’t think there was some disappointment among people who supported Hillary. I don’t think that’s necessarily unique to the delegation. I think there are a lot of people who have wished and hoped for Hillary’s success at the national level, but I don’t think there’s any lingering personal resentment. I think we all know we have to be ready for November. The point is, we don’t want John McCain to be president. That’s what we’re all fighting for.
In the last few days, we’ve received e-mails from Clinton supporters on the national level calling for disruption at the convention. Do you see New Mexico having any interest in that?
Not from my viewpoint. I certainly haven’t encouraged that in New Mexico. I mean, if Hillary was saying she’s going to fight it on the convention floor, then I would encourage people to decide what they wanted to do.
What events are you looking forward to most at the convention?
Monday, at the convention, is a day full of a lot of things for women elected leaders and I’m really looking forward to networking with women from across the country who have been successful, who are there to encourage young women to emerge and be part of the process. I always enjoy that daytime stuff that’s not part of the television programming and I’m always interested to see who will be, let’s say, the Obama of 2008. In 2004, when he made his speech, he kind of took off at that point. There will be somebody this time that will make a similar kind of trajectory.
Not Lt. Gov. Diane Denish?
It will not be Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. I haven’t been invited to speak. I spoke at the last convention about early childhood. I’d love to punch that issue through again but I haven’t been invited to do one of those three- to five-minute speaking engagements. I wish I could say I’m looking forward to the 75,000 people in Invesco Field, but I’m actually trying to decide whether or not to go and be part of the energy and the enthusiasm and not hear a single word of what he says or if I’m going to stay in my hotel room and really listen intently to every word of his speech.
One last question, then I can let you get back to constituent business. Should we practice calling you ‘governor?’
Well, I would hope so. If the question is am I going to run for governor, the answer is yes, in 2010.
Could you be the governor before, say, the next legislative session?
Well, a lot of people are speculating on that. I’ll leave that question to the governor.
Full, live and interactive coverage of SFR at the DNC can be found on our Swing State of Mind blog.
EXTRA: Charting the Democratic "Web of Power"
Also related: the low-down on protesting at the DNC