The Los Alamos branch of the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum tonight. All three candidates, Ben Ray Lujan(D), Dan East(R) and Carol Miller(I), attended. I was excited to attend; I had never been to a debate/forum for a federal office and I was looking forward to learning about the candidates. Some questions I had going into the debate: Lujan's resume seems thin, could he provide substantive answers to questions about tough issues? Was Dan East a Republican in the mold of Mitch McConnell or Lincoln Chafee? Was Carol Miller a Jesse Ventura centrist, or a spoiler for the left or right? The forum answered these questions and more.
Carol Miller is no centrist; I would call her a pragmatic liberal who very well could be the spoiler in this race, pulling votes from Lujan. She also seemed to be the candidate with the best chances of a successful freshman term in the House. She has Washington experience and a realistic view of what a new congressman can accomplish. When asked about her top three priorities for the next congress, Miller answered that the leaders of Congress set the priorities and that her energies would be best spent improving any NM-related legislation that the leaders propose. True-blue liberals have a clear choice here: an effective representative of their views (Miller) or a congressman that will probably just vote the Democratic party line (Lujan).
Conservatives, although outnumbered in this district, have picked a good representative for their cause. East hit all of the usual conservative notes: promoting lower taxes and deregulation, supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting the 2nd Amendment and passing the Pro-Life litmus test. Fiscal conservatives may cringe a little at the number of spending programs he appeared willing to support: East stated support for more education grants, more spending on infrastructure, full emphatic support of the NM national laboratories (Los Alamos and Sandia) and more spending on border control technology and police. However, I suspect most Republicans will have no problem voting for him.
Democrats should probably worry about the choice of Lujan. Yes, he has the full support of the NM Democratic party machine behind him (and that may be enough this year in this district), but he is facing a significantly better qualified candidate (Miller) that shares most of his views. A lot of his answers tonight seemed like empty rhetoric. He gave several vapid simplistic answers to questions about student loans, the role of public lands, national debt, the war on terror and universal health care. When he wasn't reciting the Democratic Talking Points of 2008, he reverted to blathering platitudes.
As an independent, none of the candidates really connected with me. If I were to strictly vote my pocketbook (as a resident of Los Alamos), there would be no choice: Dan East's emphatic support of the national labs would win me over. But I really don't like his stances on social issues (opposition to gay marriage and abortion). Miller would make a good congresswoman, but she may be too liberal for my tastes. The only reason I can find to vote for Lujan is that I can't decide between East and Miller.