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Friday, November 30, 2007

New Mexico Trifecta Complete: Udall Joins Pearce And Wilson In Senate Bid; Indepth Blog Coverage Of All The Angles 

Maybe if you get to blow out a hundred candles you'll see something like this again, but we doubt it. All three New Mexico US House members are vacating their seats to run for a US Senate seat which in turn is being vacated by the longest serving senator in state history. The cherry on top of this giant political sundae is the first serious presidential campaign ever conducted by a New Mexican who is a sitting Governor to boot. Far in the future, while you're bouncing the grandkids on your knee, you can put down that book of favorite fairy tales and pick up the 2008 book of La Politica. It will rival the best of fables.

The historic turning point was set to happen ever since Democrat Tom Udall indicated he would join fellow US Reps. and Republicans Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce in seeking the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pete Domenici, but until he took to a stage Thursday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and mouthed the magic words--"I am running"--there was room for doubt. No more.

Udall turned in a serviceable performance. The 59 year old reminds you of the guy who is first at the party and the first to leave, but he did his best to induce some excitement with remarks that were drained of any suspense by several weeks of pre-game hype. Perhaps mindful of concerns that the five term congressman who has faced no serious opposition in ten years may be lacking in "the fire in the belly" department, his campaign spun Tom Pettys hit, "Won't Back Down" as he strode to the podium. There, he was greeted by his wife Jill and daughter Amanda who insiders note have more appetite for confrontation than the mild-mannered man they were there to urge on.

And confrontation is what ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez hopes it will be as he wages an underdog battle for the Democratic Senate nomination against the Tucson born Udall. The Congressman, also a two-time Attorney General winner, knows how to nurse a lead. He subtly reminded loyalists that he was drafted by national Dems and was not seeking the Senate because of his personal ambition. He said the Dems lack the Senate numbers to make "meaningful change." He came close to acknowledging Chavez only once. Near the end of his 16 minute speech, he called on all of those running to keep the campaign "positive and purposeful." Hear that Marty?

US SENATE STRATEGY

Udall will be Mr. Positive Thinking personified as long as he holds that 20 point lead he has in the polls. In fact, the Alligators say Udall's main job between now and the mid-March preprimary convention is to avoid Chavez, roll out some big name endorsements, raise money and shore up his Hispanic support.

A historic reality--Hispanics win Democratic primaries-- hangs over Udall's head and one he will spend the opening days of his campaign addressing. Choosing to announce at the National Hispanic Cultural Center was no accident. Neither is his travel schedule following the announcement. He will go to Silver City, Las Cruces, Mora, Santa Fe and Las Vegas, but will not be in any of the "Little Texas" counties like Lea, Otero or Chavez. The only Eastside stop will be Clovis which is in his congressional district. Some strategists believe the rural Anglo areas--even though conservative--will have a natural inclination toward Udall over Chavez in the primary. Also, turnout could be lowest in those areas as neither liberal Udall or Chavez is going to have them filling the bleachers.

It is the Spanish North, the ABQ Valley and the small cities along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque down to Cruces where the Dem Hispanic vote is concentrated. Because his unfavorable ratings are high, that vote has not naturally come home to Chavez. But what worries Camp Udall is Chavez's tireless dedication, his willingness to go negative at the drop of a piƱon nut, and that historic propensity of Hispanic Dems to perform well in primaries.

EVEN MORE STRATEGY

The pollsters say in a "high-information" race such as US Senate, ethnic voting is dampened as voters are well acquainted with the personalities of those running. That gives Udall breathing room, but those already writing Chavez off are cautioned by the polling pros to slow down and take a deep breath.

Still, by any measure Udall is the front runner. He is a liberal Democrat running in a relatively low turnout primary in which liberals will have an outsized say. Because he has lost much of the current Democratic base, Chavez may have to bring into the primary voting booths voters who normally don't go there; perhaps older Hispanics who usually vote in the fall but not in the primary.

Chavez, 55, will also need considerable money to start turning the numbers. Udall will have a million bucks in the bank soon. Chavez will need hefty amounts early to start media to repair his damaged image and also to make the case against Udall. National Dems who urged Udall into the race are sure to try to starve Marty's bank account.

ON THE PLATE NOW

Most immediately for our Senate hopefuls is organizing for the mid-March preprimary convention. Only Marty and Tom are expected to be able to get at least 20% of the delegate votes necessary to win a spot on the June primary ballot. Taos publisher Leland Lehrman, who announces his candidacy today on an impeach Bush platform, is also running. However, unless the Legislature reinstates the provision allowing a candidate to collect petition signatures to get on the ballot if denied a spot at the convention, Leland's chances of making the ballot are slim to none, and slim may have just left town.

If Udall scores a 60% plus victory over Chavez at the preprimary, it will be a momentum sapper for the three term ABQ mayor. Also, will prominent national Dems come forward for Udall in a contested primary? Such endorsements could be another Chavez problem.

Udall is going to be tough to trump on message. He went all liberal all-the-time at yesterday's announcement, just what the base wants to hear. It was out of Iraq, no to the Patriot Act and yes to environmental protection, a cause the Udall's have been associated with for decades. Chavez's "strong leader" argument may be more effective for a general election campaign than an issue oriented Democratic primary. How is he a different Democrat than Udall, not a different leader, may be the question he will have to answer. After Udall announced, Chavez, who has been beating his foe up like a rented mule, was a bit softer. "We can't change Washington with more Washington politicians." He said.

THE ROAD AHEAD

There is no reason now for the congressman to look to position himself in the center and for the general election, but attacks on Udall over layoffs at Los Alamos Labs from Pearce and the state GOP on his announcement day gave us a peek at the fall campaign. Tearing down Udall will be a full-time job for the GOP nominee as Udall's negatives are low and his style is eerily similar to other notable winners in New Mexico's post-WWII history. His low-key affability brings to mind Senator Bingaman, former ABQ Mayor Harry Kinney, GOP Congressman Manuel Lujan and others of a laconic bent who didn't shout about themselves, but steadily went about their business.

Another danger for the R's was signaled when Udall laid claim to being able to reach across the aisle and work with the opposite party, often a political platitude, but in Udall's case believable because of his track record. That message is also deep in our state's political DNA. Ticket splitting is a time honored tradition here. With an electorate dead tired of the gridlock gripping the national capital, a personality that tilts toward consensus building could be a powerful plus for Tom Udall whose career aspirations were met in the House of Representatives, but whose final political destiny is being shaped by the turbulent times in which he lives.

ON THE SCENE

ABQ State Senator Dede Feldman was all smiles at the Udall event. Also seen glad-handing was Dem State Rep. Al Park. Sitting prominently behind Udall was Park's law partner and ABQ City Councilor Michael Cadigan who has frequently clashed with Mayor Chavez. Both Park and Cadigan are possible 2009 ABQ Mayoral candidates. And how about "Mayor" Richard Romero. Well, he would like to be ABQ's next His Honor. The former ABQ State Senator clapped heartily as Udall announced. There was a real live Mayor on hand, or at least a former one. Bob Rosebrough, the attorney who was Gallup Mayor, was among those joining Udall on stage.

Conroy Chino, former NM labor department chief and Acoma Pueblo heavy was seen cheering, as was at least one staffer for Light Guv Diane Denish. Terry Brunner of Senator Bingaman's staff was there as was Bernalilo County Commissioner and possible '09 mayoral hopeful Alan Armijo.

Santa Fe New Mexican political reporter Steve Terrell drove down, even though these announcements no longer feature free food, free booze or women who like to "have coffee" afterwards. But you have your memories, Steve...

MEDIA MOVES

Udall won eight minutes of live coverage on the KOB-TV noon news. The station also streamed the entire speech on its Web site. Early evening news broadcasts on the three network affiliates gave the announcement heavy coverage on what was a pretty slow news day. The advance work appeared to be done right, with the room not too big for the crowd on hand and the TV shots of Udall conveying a sense of excitement, if not gravitas. Mainly, the announcement did not lay any eggs which is the main goal when you are protecting a lead.

JOLTIN' JOE

Pictured here is ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro who a couple of hours after Udall announced for the Senate, made official his run for the GOP nomination for the ABQ Congressional seat. He will face Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. Joe became famous for his ABQ pizza place. The pie he is eyeing here seems to meet with his approval. Both Carraro and White are natives of the New York City area which ought to be entertaining, if Joe can get Darren to come out and play.

Mark Bralley snapped today's photos. I'm Joe Monahan, coming to you from Albuquerque, NM.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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