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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Upside Down Politics: It's Heather Who Wants Debates, Plus: King Says He Leads Bibb Big, And: Was There A Deal For Armijo? 

Madrid
Is she scared she will get creamed? Is she resting on a lead she does not want to endanger? Does she want to wait until the end of the campaign? So go the questions in the wake of the news that ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Patsy Madrid has turned down a one hour prime time September 11 debate on ABQ CBS affiliate KRQE-TV with incumbent GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. The questioning grew even more intense when word came to us this week that Madrid's campaign also nixed KRQE's proposal to tape and later air in prime time a joint appearance the candidates have scheduled for September 17th at the Congregation Albert, a traditional venue for such confrontations.

A challenger refusing to debate an incumbent is pretty much unheard of. But this race is unlike any other in the 30 year history of the district and Madrid's decision, while rightfully inflaming the good government editorial writers, is seen by some strategists as a wise course of action. With each passing day, it is becoming clear that Madrid wants to peak this campaign on her timetable, not on Heather's. No, she is not scared. Anyone who has followed her 30 year career will attest to that, but she is concerned that an early misstep could knock her on the canvas as happened to Dem challenger Richard Romero when he bombed in an 04' TV debate.

The Madrid campaign readily admits that polished Heather, a Rhodes Scholar and experienced debater has the advantage. They know they can't refuse all TV face-offs and have agreed to KOB-TV's October 24 prime time debate. But that will come very late in the game, after thousands of votes will already have been cast. (Early voting starts Oct.10)

WHY WON'T SHE?

Wilson
The reasoning seems to be that a Democratic Tidal Wave is forming and that Madrid's main task is to be alive and well if and when it comes November 7th. In other words, she may not have a lead now, but under this reasoning the wave is coming and will be enough to push her over the top. Early TV debates, fraught with the potential for the big mistake, could take her out. She knows her weaknesses and live debates is one of them, thus the bizarre spectacle of the incumbent arguing for more TV debates.

It is essential for Heather to turn this campaign into a referendum on Madrid, as all the major issues--gas prices-the no-end-in-sight-Iraq war--and the overwhelming majority of voters who feel the country is going in the wrong direction--cut against her and cut deeply. It will be those issues that the Dems will furiously employ after Labor Day, hoping to wash away the R's obsessive focus on ethics and prepare for the Tidal Wave.

It is a high-stakes gamble by Madrid because she is foregoing the chance to inflict damage on Heather early. But previous Heather challengers have played by the conventional rules and lost in the lean-Republican district. Patsy's debate delay tactic may be just the type of curve ball she needs to keep Heather a bit off of her game and keep the race in play in the final critical weeks.

And what do Heather and Patsy do with all their time if they are not preparing for debates? Sadly, constantly raising money. Patsy says she canceled the TV 13 debate because she will be in Atlanta for a fundraiser. Heather is just back from an Arizona money hunt and will soon be in St. Louis looking for more of the green stuff. As much as we would all like to see it change, modern congressional campaigns remains stuck in a rut: raise millions for formulaic and usually negative 30 second TV spots. It's is not uplifting, but it is reality.

TV TALK

By proposing an early September debate, KRQE-TV is ahead of the curve. Election Day itself is on the way to becoming perfunctory, with well over 50% of the vote predicted to be forecast before that date thru absentee voting and early in-person voting. Wouldn't it be nice if the TV's could get together and set debate schedules that would address the new reality? By the way, Comcast Cable has proposed a Heather-Patsy debate that would be broadcast nationally October 17 on C-Span. Madrid has not confirmed.

CHECK THOSE ADS

The Wilson-Madrid TV ads seem to be coming at the speed of light, with the campaigns and interest groups starting to pile on as this seat could determine which party takes control of the U.S. House. But who is watching the ads for accuracy?

Well, KOAT-TV for one. As part of their campaign coverage, they are examining the Wilson-Madrid ads and picking apart what's true and what's not. It's sorely needed. The only complaint is that the entire series of ad watch reports are not up on the site, or if they are, they are hard to find. The big news would be if they find an ad that is 100% true.

IS GARY KING?


The state GOP had a good "quote-of-the-day" from GOP attorney general candidate Jim Bibb: "We all know public corruption is a cancer in New Mexico. Fraud and corruption in state government is huge and it's not just in Santa Fe," scored Bibb. But Dem candidate Gary King had even better news for his supporters. He says his latest poll shows him with a 49% to 25% lead over his opponent. The Lake Research survey also says a whopping 28% of NM R's are with Gary. Bibb started TV a week ago and King went up Wednesday with an anti-meth ad, similar to one he aired in the June primary. That ethics issue isn't going to need just long legs, it will need stilts if Bibb is to catch King.

A DEAL FOR JEFF?

Leave it to my readers. Call them cynical, but many of them emailed in asking if Big Bill offered Jeff Armijo a deal in exchange for abandoning his embattled Dem candidacy for the state auditor nomination. Speculation ranged from Jeff getting a state job when the campaign is over, to state business being directed to his ABQ travel agency. But a Big Bill supporter shot down the conspiracy theories saying Richardson would not be that dumb. "If he offered something, Jeff might very well have left their meeting and said the Guv was trying to bribe him into getting off the ticket. He would not take the chance." Probably not. But you can bet the investigative reporters are standing by, just in case.

MEA CULPA

It hs been an extra busy week around here (Thanks for your support!) and that sometimes leads to an error or two. And I think I made one when I said that if State Rep. Hector Balderas were named as the new state auditor candidate by the Democratic State Central Committee, the county commissions from the northern counties he represents would send nominees up to the Governor to replace Balderas in the House. Apparently not. The Dem Central Committee members from the counties Balderas represents could vote on a nominee Sept. 9 and that person's name would replace Balderas's on the November ballot. Since there is no Republican candidate running for the Balderas seat, that person would win a two year term in November.

Also on the auditor front, ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez has confirmed his interest in replacing Jeff Armijo. He joins Balderas in the contest as a leading contender.

THE BOTTOM LINES

I expect the ABQ Journal poll on the Madrid-Wilson race and maybe others to be released Sunday. I have not double-checked with pollster Brian Sanderoff, so I can't say for sure. But if it is, I will have my exclusive analysis of the numbers on a special Sunday blog. And on Tuesday, I will have the analysts and alligators with their takes. Be sure to check in Sunday. Until then, thanks for your company. Drop me an email with your news and comments form the top of the page.

Happy Labor Day, New Mexico!

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
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