Los Alamos, N.M.
New Mexico newspapers didn't start taking pastor and conservative Republican candidate Bill Redmond seriously until he blew past a Democrat and a Green Party nominee to win a congressional seat in May. The Sante Fe New Mexican, for example, consistently echoed Democrat Eric Serna's references to Mr. Redmond as a "radical right-wing preacher." The newspaper repeatedly ran its 1991 file photo of a bearded Mr. Redmond wearing roller skates (his congregation at Sante Fe Christian Church was opening a skating rink as an outreach).
Mr. Redmond smiles easily and makes the most of the unsophisticated image. In parades, he roller skates (he can waltz and fox trot on wheels), and he brought his homeschooled son Jordan, 14, along on the campaign trail (the pair logged 70,000 highway miles in 1996, Jordan cheerfully reports).
WORLD interviewed Mr. Redmond in his Los Alamos office, a one-story pink stucco complex, common in New Mexico. Los Alamos, home of the national laboratories, has a high-tech feel that Mr. Redmond oddly fits into. In school he focused on the philosophy of science, and the Chicago native came to Los Alamos nine years ago. He and his wife, Shirley Raye Redmond, saw a segment about the city on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Los Alamos was cited as one of the 10 most influential cities in the United States, and the couple say they wanted to have an impact.
He won the seat, he says matter-of-factly, by knowing more about the district and the process than his opponents. "I started by researching how [former Congressman] Bill Richardson won the seat in the first place," Mr. Redmond said. "I learned all I could about the district: It covers 17 counties and 52,000 square miles; it's larger than most states east of the Mississippi."
More than half of the district's voters are Democrats. Mr. Richardson, who was appointed by President Clinton as ambassador to the United Nations in February, had held the seat safely since it was created in 1982. Mr. Redmond ran in 1996, knowing he wouldn't win-then. "But I knew Bill Richardson saw the seat as a rung on the ladder," Mr. Redmond says. "I knew he'd likely get a cabinet post."
Mr. Redmond was right. So when the seat came open, he was ready with a network of Republican supporters and some district-wide name recognition. After that, it was only a matter of using the 90-day campaign to mobilize Republican voters. "I didn't worry about reaching out to the Greens or the Democrats or the independent voters," Mr. Redmond says dismissively. "I didn't try to make myself appear 'more acceptable.' That's not what wins this kind of election. I went after my voters, and I kept my message clear and concise."
Preparation was only one providential factor in the victory. The Democratic nominee had weathered several ethical controversies over his actions in a state office, the Corporation Commission. And Mr. Serna led off his campaign with a pro-abortion ad that fell flat with the large number of Hispanic voters in the district. The ad was so offensive to the archbishop that he contacted Mr. Serna and asked him to pull it.
The Democrat's overconfidence showed during the campaign. He ditched a candidate's forum in Santa Fe, but was spotted in a sushi bar that evening "drinking imported beer," according to a Redmond press release. When the press confronted him, Mr. Serna declared he only drank domestic beers-such as Corona. A full week of the 90-day campaign was consumed by the question, is Corona (made in Mexico) a domestic beer? Serna supporters tried to convince morning deejays that it is.
A third-party candidate brightened the race a bit; Dan Pearlman, the Reform candidate, is the millionaire inventor of the halogen lightbulb. He's also a New Ager who lives in a tent in the Taos mountains. To put it gently, Mr. Pearlman took some of the sting out of Mr. Serna's accusations that Mr. Redmond was an extremist.
But the most significant factor in Mr. Redmond's win was probably the strong showing by Carol Miller, the Green Party candidate, who drew 17 percent of the overall vote, effectively handing the seat to Mr. Redmond.
The Democrats have vowed to retake the seat, but Mr. Redmond is confident he'll keep the job. "I have 18 months to prove myself," he says. "And Bill Richardson left a backlog of 300 constituent problems for me to deal with. My work is cut out for me."