Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pearce Pushes Back; Declares He Will Swamp Heather In First Round Of Senate Battle; Complete Coverage, Plus: Kari's Free Ride Ends; DA Draws GOP Foe 

Wilson vs. Pearce
The no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners race for the NM GOP US Senate nomination rocked the political community again Tuesday as Rep. Steve Pearce boasted he is on the "verge of a huge victory" at the party's important March 15th preprimary nominating convention. Pearce, taking dead aim at rival Heather Wilson's money supply, pushed hard in a late afternoon news release:

"The convention...will shock the establishment in Washington, D.C. and open up new doors of support for Steve Pearce and his campaign for the U.S. Senate. The Wilson forces are spinning and demoralized while the Pearce campaign seems to reach a higher level every day."

County conventions to pick delegates to the preprimary just concluded and the Pearce forces can see they are on their way to a victory which will give him the top spot on the June primary ballot. More importantly, it will give him momentum to raise more money, discourage donations to Wilson and ultimately--if his wildest dreams come true--lay the groundwork to force her out of the race.

The Wilson camp is furiously spinning that Pearce was expected all along to win the preprimary by a huge margin, but that is not the case among the political classes of New Mexico or Washington. For the June 3 primary the case has been made that the conservative Pearce may have an edge because more right-wing voters tend to go to the primary polls. However, there has been no mainstream media coverage of preprimary expectations in the race, only back room speculation among deep party insiders. If the Wilson camp truly felt Pearce was going to pull off a victory, they did a poor job preparing the media, press, public and bloggers. Pearce is now taking full advantage.

If there was any betting line at all on the preprimary (around here, we bet on anything that moves) it was that the race could be decided by single digits among the 400 plus delegates. And Pearce knows it, leaving the field for him to shape. Pearce labels his expected victory an "upset" which is a stretch since neither Wilson or Pearce was the perceived front runner in the public or party consciousness. But that doesn't mean the victory won't be a momentum builder and money raiser when it occurs.


The Pearce reference to the Washington "establishment" is a shot across the bow of forces at the Republican National Committee and the camp of departing GOP Senator Pete Domenici where operatives ardently support Wilson, fearing that Pearce is too conservative to carry moderate New Mexico in the fall. They have spread that word among establishment Republicans. Pearce's camp hopes that touting the anticipated preprimary win will begin the process of scaring off top Republican donors from feeding Wilson and preparing for a possible Pearce primary win. Wilson out raised Pearce in the last three months of 2007, after Pearce insiders erroneously predicted Pearce would top her totals. The Pearce campaign must be seething to see Heather out raise Steve by two to one in money from political action committees---the favored vehicle of the "establishment."

Both candidates are well-financed. However, Pearce has millions in personal oil-based wealth. Wilson is not wealthy. If Pearce can slow her cash flow, she would have nowhere to go.

Of course, if Pearce somehow failed to win at the preprimary it would spell disaster for him. Announcing the outcome of any vote before actual votes are cast carries inherent risk and demonstrates that the rule book is being thrown out as we fill the first open NM US senate seat in 36 years.


Pearce's likely win will be based on blow-out showings in the rural counties, while Wilson will carry big Bernalillo County. It is a classic rural vs urban New Mexican campaign. (Think Obama vs. Clinton recently) The first signs of it came last year when Earl Greer of T Or C launched a challenge to incumbent NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh. Greer claimed the party gave too much attention to the needs of Wilson and Albuquerque. Greer lost but performed much better than expected as rural county chairmen rallied to his side.

The release of the final delegate preprimary list was fortuitous for Pearce as he was able to predict his forthcoming win on the day the ABQ Journal front-paged his foreign policy slip. Pearce asserted England exported more radical terrorists than any country in the Middle East. It was what we in the biz call "a one day story" that didn't make much TV, but it came on the heels of Heather's assaults on Pearce over border security and the status of Cannon Air Force Base. Some operatives felt Pearce was starting to fall behind the curve in answering the ABQ congresswoman and think the preprimary victory prediction puts him back on higher ground.

Pearce's consultants are obsessed with staying on the offensive. Shortly after declaring, he conducted a telephone conference call with thousands of NM GOP households. Heather claimed it violated congressional rules. Then, in January, Pearce became the first NM congressional candidate to make a major TV buy. Now, he is crowing of a victory even before the votes are counted. Wilson has started to attack more frequently, but she has been unable to change the dynamic of the race in the early going. She will now step on the gas, but she has to make sure she has operatives on board who know more than react and attack politics. She must match Pearce's package of creative surprises. Sorry, Heather. I'm not available.

In the Pearce news release, the campaign mentions "a state party poll showing Pearce in the lead..." That is a reference to the poll we exclusively covered for you in which Pearce scores 38% of the Republican primary vote and Wilson gets 33%, It was taken in mid-January. Pearce's reference to it nails down our original reporting.

Republicans know that Pearce's conservatism does not bode well historically in a general election match-up with Tom Udall, But many hardcore convention goers and June primary voters are not concerned with history. They are voting what they believe. Wilson has their minds, but Pearce has their hearts. The epic battle for both goes on.


Some expectations for the Democratic Party preprimary convention, also to be held March 15th, were set on this blog Tuesday, when operatives for southern congressional candidate Harry Teague told us they expect the Hobbs oilman to finish behind rival and Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley. They said that's because McCamley has been on the campaign trail much longer, but a McCamley operative bit into that one:

Don't you find it strange that Teague is trying to lower expectations so much before the convention? Many out there (yourself included at times) have been calling Teague the frontrunner, and yet here he is trying to push expectations way down...The fact is that Teague has been in the race since October, and he's had the opportunity to speak at every county convention. With all his money and the overt support of Lt. Governor Denish, he should be very strong...As much as he wants to play the expectations game, why shouldn't he be aiming for top of the ballot?

Of course, all of this is a carousel of expectations. After his first round of spin, if Teague comes in first he can make a bigger deal about it. If he doesn't, he has already lowered the bar.

Teague will have some ground to make up for not coming in first, but his front-runner status for the June 3rd primary is the result of other factors recently explained here, including that McCamley is outgunned two to one in the money department.

Lisa Torraco
It was good while it lasted, but the free ride for Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is over. Unlike 2004, when no fellow Democrat challenged her in the primary and the Republicans failed to field a general election challenger, in 2008, Kari has drawn a GOP foe. She is criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Lisa Torraco who announced her candidacy Tuesday. (See her GOP campaign contributions here.) The 1991 UNM Law School Graduate has a fat target to shoot at--no, not the slim Kari--but the city's crime rate. Torraco says that "everyday 17 houses are broken into and every 95 minutes a car is stolen."

DA Brandenburg is seeking her third four year term. Whether you support her or not, a competitive election campaign is good for the city. Compared to past years, the DA's office has been under covered by the press. Torraco, who has taught prosecutions at UNM, seems up to the challenge of asking the incumbent to defend her long tenure. Brandenburg, the daughter of a former DA, has run an open shop and is herself a former defense lawyer. We look forward to some comparing and contrasting over ABQ's bedeviling crime problem.


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