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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Reality Gap: ABQ House Race Escalates; Dems Debate Heinrich Strategy, Plus: White TV; What You'd Expect, And: Pearce Plays Abortion Card 

Heinrich & White
On paper 2008 offers New Mexico Democrats one of their best chances ever to take over the ABQ congressional district, a target that has eluded them since it was created in 1968. But is the political environment so favorable that Democrat Martin Heinrich can afford to come with a perhaps too-cute TV spot and at the same time reject a prime time televised debate with his GOP foe, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White? The questions arose over the weekend as Heinrich unveiled a new TV ad that drew mixed reviews and after the NM AARP said White accepted but Heinrich opted out of an October 17th prime time debate slated for KRQE-TV.

In a note to supporters Heinrich called his new 30 second spot "my fun, new ad." It hits White and Bush for "being wrong on energy" and blames them for high gas prices. But several Alligators we asked thought it may be too cute and contrasts unfavorably with White's first TV ad which was unveiled Friday and emphasizes his law enforcement career.

The main criticism was that Heinrich remains relatively unknown to key voter groups in the moderate ABQ district and that he has yet to introduce himself. That leaves the former one-time city councilor still vulnerable to being defined by White. Earlier attacks on Heinrich's resume are not going to go away, no matter how much the D.C. consultants would like them to. Why not get ahead of the curve? Does Heinrich's background not matter, even a little?

So ask the critics in what we call the reality gap.

Meanwhile, White, already having heavy name ID, came with a bio spot that reintroduces himself to voters. Heinrich's campaign never laid a glove on White during the long summer, and now he continues to tell voters who he is without any interference from Heinrich. Also, insiders ask what does Heinrich's spot do to secure Democratic Hispanics and independent voters who will be key in deciding this election? They argue his ad has most impact with liberal D's already in Heinrich's corner. In fairness, White has done as little as Heinrich in going after his foe, drawing his own share of Republican critics who fault him for a "do-nothing" campaign.

What about Heinrich nixing that TV debate with White? Why upset the group that represents seniors--the demographic most likely to vote. Beth Velasquez of AARP tells us how Heinrich ducked the debate.

Neither AARP nor KRQE News 13 heard from the Heinrich campaign regarding the debate. Unfortunately, at this point we will not be moving forward...We have been working with the campaigns since late July to come up with a viable date and, due to planning and programming, a decision was needed.

The hope now is that both KOB and KOAT pick up the debate slack and host prime time face-offs that both candidates agree to.

WEIRD, OR WHAT?

Yes, it all seems weird. The Dem challenger, who is said to be running behind in recent polling, turning down an opportunity to take on the opposition? Does his camp believe a SurveyUSA poll from late August showing Heinrich three points ahead? Do they believe motivating young voters and new registrants will take them to victory? Do they believe not debating White will deny their GOP rival an opportunity? What about the opportunity Heinrich needs to prove himself? And what about Heinrich's reputation as a "progressive" who believes in open and transparent government? Doesn't that include debating before the New Mexican public? What do his fellow progressives think of that?

Whatever the case, the unconventional Heinrich campaign has Dems fretting again over their chances of finally securing the ABQ seat. In the past 40 years there have been big several Dem "wave elections" (1976, 1992 and 2006) and still the GOP prevailed. If there is an Obama Wave in '08 (an increasingly unlikely prospect) why would it carry Heinrich in when others have not? It's true that Bernalillo County appears poised to go Dem, but coattails in the district have been as rare as hurricanes.

Martin Heinrich may turn out to be the man with the clearest crystal ball in 2008 and his head-scratching political strategy could prove triumphant, but as it unfolds it looks like a mathematical formula understood by only a select few.

HEINRICH'S AD




WHITE'S WAY


While Heinrich perplexes, Darren White has floundered--until Friday. He finally came with his first TV ad of the cycle. It positions him as a veteran law enforcement officer, posing in protective vest and dubbing him a "street cop." The money line in the ad is also the most controversial. At the end, he states: "In Congress, I'll be an independent voice for you."

Really? How is White, the former county chair for the Bush re-election campaign, independent of his GOP? When asked on a KNME-TV appearance earlier this year what votes he would cast differently than incumbent GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, White paused and replied that he could not think of any vote he would cast differently. Is Wilson, who has disengaged with the Bush White House on only a few occasions, the template for a White congressional term? The sheriff also had President Bush raise hundreds of thousands for him at a Los Ranchos event this year. That doesn't do much to establish his "independent voice."

But these are issues for Martin Heinrich and the Democrats to tackle. So far, they have been hushed. The national Dems are going to hit with a $1 million plus TV buy next week and there will likely be plenty of noise about White and his assertion that he is independent as well as his crime fighting record. Can they take him down in a few short weeks? Heavy in-person early voting begins October 18th.

Both White and Heinrich are now before the public, but neither has given us a sense of what kind of congressman they would be, who they are or what makes them passionate about wanting the job. Their handlers are quite happy to keep them under wraps taking tentative lamb-like steps, but we need lions in these challenging times, not lambs. The voters deserve more (including as many debates as possible) from these hopefuls. Only a short time remains for them to get it.

WHITE'S AD



PEARCE ABORTION PLAY

GOP US Senate candidate Steve Pearce is playing the abortion card, hitting with a 15 second TV spot over the weekend that challenges Dem Tom Udall on the hot button topic of partial-birth abortion. In the ad, in which an eye-grabbing picture of a baby resting on their mother's womb is pictured, Pearce relates how he is against the controversial procedure. At the end of the ad he uses his new catch-phrase, "How did you vote, Tom?" Of course, Pearce knows exactly how Tom voted. Udall has a pro-choice record, voting against a ban on partial birth abortion, which was outlawed in 2003.

So what is Pearce up to? Well, partial birth abortion is a something even many pro-choice voters don't like. More particularly, it is especially abhorrent among Catholic voters--many of whom are Hispanic and reside in Udall's Northern House district. Pearce has closed the polling gap to seven points in Rasmussen--51-44--but to attract the votes he needs to get closer, he must eat away at Udall's Dem support.

Late-term abortion is a powerful and emotional subject. So far, Udall has been able to run a reactive campaign, putting up responses to Pearce's negative ads. He will also likely respond to this latest assault. But will Udall try to grab the offensive away from Pearce and start attacking the southern NM congressman's very conservative voting record? If the numbers keep moving, he will. Even if they don't, he may not want to wait.

This battle for the power and glory of the United States Senate, despite the lousy economy and the big Dem edge, is threatening to become something that Chris Cillizza and the D.C. crowd said it never would--exciting. You are advised not to look away for long. Don't say we didn't tell you.

BIG BILL'S BONUS

It's good to be Governor. Who else on a whim can order a dollar decrease in the admission price to the NM State Fair? Bill did it after hearing about a drop in attendance because of high gas prices and an overall soft economy. This past weekend, however, fair attendance may have been back up, not because of the buck fair goers saved, but because many of them finally received their first paychecks since the event kicked off September 5. Nevertheless, sending taxpayers rebate checks, as the Guv and Legislature recently did, and chopping admission to NM's big show, can't hurt Bill's cause of boosting his sagging popularity ratings. Before that happens, maybe you should send him a list of other pesky fees that he might want to consider reducing. You've got to strike while the iron is hot, or in this case, when the polling numbers aren't.

We catch up with the Guv in Las Vegas, Nevada where he was stumping for Hispanic votes for Obama.

BEN AND KENNY

We don't know if State Rep. Kenny Martinez will again challenge incumbent NM House Speaker Ben Lujan when the Legislature meets in January, although we kind of doubt it. Regardless, they are working together on at least one project--the election of Eliseo Alcon to the NM House. Speaker Lujan is hosting fundraiser (click on invite to enlarge) for Alcon tonight and Martinez is also listed as a host. The western NM area is heavy Dem, so Alcon should take the seat. Now if Kenny challenges Ben again for speaker, who would Alcon vote for?

NO VOTE VAL

Not to mention that actor Val Kilmer might not be qualified to be Governor of New Mexico?

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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