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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gates Start To Close On Campaign '08; Early Voting Starts Today, Plus: Heinrich Leads White In Independent Poll, And: Mac's ABQ Visit 

Thousands upon thousands of New Mexican voters could care less about the upcoming TV candidate debates, the last minute TV commercials and the flyers flooding into their mailboxes. They are among those closing the gates on Campaign '08 by voting early. Today, the first day of early voting, will attract several thousand of them. It's a process that will continue until the end of the month and, my experts say, account for as many as 60% of all the votes cast in the November 4th election. If we have a turnout of about 800,000 that would mean an early vote of 520,000. Each year the percentage of the electorate choosing to forego traditional Election Day voting grows forcing campaigns to adapt.

Voters love early voting because they can make their decision and tune-out the inevitable barrage of negative campaigning that defines the modern election cycle. Some of the media is starting to adjust by having their TV debates earlier and newspapers are starting to come with editorial endorsements in time to catch the early voters. Monday the Santa Fe New Mexican came with one of its earliest ever endorsements as they gave the nod to Dem US Senate candidate Tom Udall. While early voting is a great convenience, those who decide to play traditionalist and cast their ballot at the local school on Election Day may be rewarded for their patience with smaller lines and a chance to chat up their neighbors.

WHITE LAGS HEINRICH

New Mexico Republicans were jolted anew Monday when the ABQ Journal released its poll of the ABQ congressional district. For the first time this early in the cycle the Democratic nominee is leading the R. Dem Martin Heinrich leads Republican Darren White 43 to 41 with 16 percent undecided.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The R's said they had delivered a golden boy in a Dem year that would keep the seat safely in GOP hands, continuing a 40 year trend. But polling prior to the Journal's showed that thesis in doubt--Heinrich's own late September poll had him leading by three-- and this poll confirms that underdog Heinrich is very close to being called the favorite. Not that the race is settled--far from it--but Heinrich may be positioned for a somewhat rare feat in ABQ congressional politics--benefiting significantly from the coattails of the presidential candidate. The Journal and pollster Brian Sanderoff say Obama is winning the metro area by 51%. McCain comes in at 34%. White is already outrunning McCain by a big margin. There's only so far he can run with that, while Heinrich has more room to grow in the direction of Obama.

The fly in the proverbial ointment for Heinrich is those conservative Reagan Democrats. The poll says he is earning 65% Dem support. Many D's don't know the former one term city councilor and there are others who are skeptical because of his liberal background. On the other hand, Heinrich has opened up a lead among the crucial independents (47 to 31 and 22 undecided) who normally go to the GOP. That is very good news indeed for Heinrich, who can now afford some bleeding among those conservative D's if he continues his head of steam with the indys.

Fifty-one percent of Hispanics polled favored Heinrich while White was favored by 32 percent, with 17 percent undecided or who wouldn't say. That's not too bad for Darren at this stage. Heinrich needs to work the South Valley harder and bring these voters home.

How can such a highly touted candidate like White be in such deep trouble? The national Dem trend is, of course, the primary reason. Heinrich remains a relatively unknown quantity. Many voters are voting against the Republican---never mind who the Dem foe is. No wonder the Alligators report that White was nowhere to be seen at McCain's ABQ visit Monday.

EVEN MORE ANALYSIS


Beyond the terrible environment for R's, White's campaign failed to campaign over the summer. They did nothing to define Heinrich or renew White's relationship with the electorate. Because he did not have sufficient funds, White came late to TV. The sheriff has shown himself to be knowledgeable about law enforcement, but not the other issues--particularly the economy--that a US congressman must deal with. He has also labored to present himself as "an independent voice" but has done little of note to demonstrate that independence. He has not rebutted Democratic charges that he is really a child of Bush, whose Bernalillo County campaign White co-chaired in 2004. Long ago, White broke with his Governor and quit his job. Now, he may face a similar decision in his relationship with the President.

The sheriff and his handlers did not seem prepared for this level of political combat, believing his long record in law enforcement would be accepted and rewarded by the voters. But that record was never presented and it turns out that many voters had only a shallow relationship with the sheriff. His record is now being presented to the voters by the Democrats in highly negative campaign ads. White has responded with one of his own, but the campaign is being fought on the wrong ground for the R's. The issue should not be whether White is a good sheriff but the competence and abilities of the Democratic candidate--the traditional route to victory for the R's in the ABQ district.

Heinrich doesn't have a lot to gloat about. As we said, he is the beneficiary of the national trend. His campaign has overspent, had various personnel issues, hid the candidate at times and been generally lackluster. Having said that, Heinrich has proven himself resilient by not making any public mistakes and being a relatively adept fund-raiser. This candidate has taken some hits that border on the personal, but has kept his cool. His restraint has served him well and perhaps given voters a sense that this is not the hapless, weak-kneed caricature that his foes were hoping would by now be his defined image.

There will be several TV debates between Heinrich and White and a mistake by either candidate could shake the race. The contest remains a toss-up but Heinrich has a tailwind and White has a headwind. But leading on coattails has dangers. If Obama should fall on his sword, Heinrich bleeds. Still, for a Democrat to be ahead in the ABQ congressional race on the day early voting begins is a first-time accomplishment. For a moment at least, it blacks out 40 years of unpleasant memories.

HARRY AND ED

Sorry, no ABQ Journal poll for the big race in the southern congressional district featuring Dem Harry Teague and R Ed Tinsley. Seems the recession is taking its toll. Teague did have some news Monday. His campaign said:

(We) raised approximately $1,096,000 in the third quarter, which runs from July 1st through September 30th. Teague loaned $500,000 to his campaign during the quarter, bringing his total personal contributions to approximately $1,265,000...Sixty-four percent of total individual donations came from within the 2nd Congressional District.

The national D's and oil wealthy Harry are outspending Tinsley on TV. Ed's been hammering Harry on gun ownership and now he's come with the endorsement of the NRA.

FATHERS OF SUCCESS

We received a new copy of that invitation for the ABQ debate watch party tonight of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on behalf of Martin Heinrich. This one, unlike the first one we posted, prominently lists Governor Richardson and Senator Bingaman as hosts for the fund-raiser. Heinrich is doing well for now, so you can't be surprised that success has many fathers. (Click on image to enlarge.)

MAC'S RETURN

McCain rolled into ABQ for a quick visit Monday that won him the usual intensive nightly news coverage the campaign yearns for, as well as the live coverage of the three cable news channels.Beyond that, there was not much of a local nature that voters here would grab onto. Senator Domenici introduced him at the early afternoon rally at the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico, a location in the heart of Obama country and which drew youthful protesters the TV cameras gravitated to. Video of McCain's speech here.

As we said earlier, our eyes on the scene say ABQ congressional hopeful Darren White did not attend the McCain event, apparently taking to heart that it is the Republican brand that is a prime reason he lags Dem Heinrich. Reps. Wilson and Pearce did attend, but neither made comments.

McCain will likely return as he trails Obama here by five points, but still has an outside chance for the upset. A stop in southern NM to beef up the conservative base may be in order. Or how about a solo visit from VP contender Palin? That would get those GOP hearts throbbing.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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