Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Berry Stays On Right; Renews Sanctuary City Wedge Issue In New Ads, Chavez Opens Counteroffensive; Romero Energized & Still Mailing; Details Up Next 

Republican RJ Berry came with new TV and radio Monday, again using the controversial "sanctuary city" policy to energize and extend his conservative base as he looks to lock in a spot in a run-off, even while nursing hope for a long shot first-round knockout in next Tuesday's ABQ mayoral election. Meanwhile, Mayor Marty Chavez opened a two pronged front against Berry and Democrat Richard Romero. And Romero counted on more mailed hit pieces against Chavez to knock the embattled mayor down further.

But all eyes were on Berry, the far NE Heights state representative who struck like a bolt out the blue and landed in first place in he ABQ Journal poll Sunday, scoring 31 percent to Chavez's 26 percent and Romero's 24 percent. Nineteen percent were undecided in the Sept. 22-24 survey.

With a hard-hitting radio spot on the sanctuary issue and a TV ad on property crime that weaves the issue in, Berry signaled that he will work to preserve his current standing and also give himself a chance to eke out 40 percent of the vote for a first-round win. If no one gets to 40, we have a run-off election between the two top vote-getters Nov. 24. But relying on a wedge issue sensitive to Hispanics and Dems exposes him to criticism that he is toying with the race card. That's a charge already being tossed about by the Chavez camp as they digest Berry's latest move.

In the TV ad, Berry, 46, points out that his own truck was stolen. He claims "property crime is out of control" here, but is down in the border area cities of Phoenix, El Paso and San Diego. He promises a crackdown on gangs, a pawn shop patrol and an "end the mayor's sanctuary city policy for criminals."

He also doesn't forget what lies at the heart of his candidacy, concluding his spot hitting Chavez this way: "After 12 years, it's time for something new."

As we said, the Berry radio ad is harder and goes for Marty's jugular:

...We'll tell you the facts about ABQ's sanctuary city policy...criminals who should be deported are never turned over to immigration officials. It's made ABQ a sanctuary city. Chavez doesn't like that term but newspapers have said it. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has said it. It is a fact. And it attracts criminals. Richard Berry thinks that's wrong...

The TV ad attempts to cast a wider net, but this is still an uphill fight for Berry to secure 40% of the vote when the percent of registered ABQ Republican voters is way below that. However, Democratic pollster Harry Pavlides says if turnout collapsed to around 70,0000 to 75,000 the GOP vote would probably comprise about 42 percent of the overall vote because R's vote more reliably. That would make the 40 percent more realistic. But it would be a whale of a collapse in turnout, considering about 87,000 ballots were cast in the mayoral contest four years ago.


Some R's fretted that if Berry can't pull the upset and put the race away with a first-round knockout, he will be faced with defending his sanctuary city policy in a run-off. That could make the run-off racially tinged and rally the Democratic base, making it even more difficult than it already is for an R to take the city's top job. Berry's camp knows that, but the GOP is not a big tent anymore. It's a small, red-meat party and demands to be well-fed before it marches to the polls. One R experienced in such matters put it this way:

The run-off is definitely unwinnable if we’re not in it. If we take our foot off the gas and start looking at the run-off, we can very easily wind up in third place, or Chavez can hit 40%.

In other words, staying in the game is the first order of business. Worries over a run-off or whether there is one will have to wait their turn.


Fear, terror, panic. All are emotions that seized top city employees Monday as they looked aghast at the Journal poll showing their boss in danger of losing power and they in danger of losing their fat paychecks. They looked on anxiously as Chavez, seeking a third term in a row and a fourth overall, launched some of his counteroffensive against Berry and Romero who have been beating the daylights out of him.

Chavez slammed Berry on "transparency," criticizing him anew for not releasing his tax returns, for using an office building he owns as a campaign headquarters and paying himself rent (the Berry campaign says the rent was donated to charity) and knocking the R for failing to register his consulting business with the city. (Berry recently registered that business after failing to do so.)

The mayor also used longtime ally and Democratic City Councilor Ken Sanchez to take a bite out of the other Richard. In an e-mail message sent by Sanchez, who is running unopposed for his Westside council seat, Romero was painted as a friend of the R's:

Over the last five years, Santa Fe Lobbyist Richard Romero has given or funneled $21,300 to Republican politicians. Why did a self described "progressive" Democrat become a Santa Fe lobbyist and use his position to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to right wing Republicans that they use to bash Democrats and advance their right wing agenda? That's not principled and it's certainly not courageous.


Romero, clearly energized by coming in only two points behind Chavez in the Journal survey, was confident enough to write Chavez's obituary in his TV interviews. He continues to spin that a mayor with "99 percent name ID" and 26 percent voter support "is done." His campaign said his final week mail will continue to assail Chavez.

Romero, who himself was the subject of political obituaries after two failed bids for the ABQ US House seat, was saying the exact opposite of Chavez--that Dems who don't want to see the city's first GOP mayor since the 80's need to come to him now that fellow Dem Chavez is down in the dumps.

Chavez did not hit with new TV, but the political community is expecting it as soon as today. Marty's strategists huddled and cell-phoned throughout the day, some of them unable to accept that their man had actually sunk to 26 percent, a number not seen since he first sought the mayor's office in 1993. In TV interviews (here and here) the mayor seemed less buoyant than usual as he somberly assessed the polling that has turned this race upside down and threatens to end his long dominance of city politics.


The firefighters union, the police union and the big union kahuna--AFSCME--are all hitting the mailboxes to prop up Mayor Marty. AFSCME, which represents some 3,500 city employees, will be in the mail slots this week.

When Chavez won the AFSCME endorsement this summer it was almost as shocking as the poll now showing him behind Berry. AFSCME's usual liberalism went by the wayside as they thought Chavez was a sure winner who would protect the membership against layoffs and job cuts as the city struggles financially. Now with Chavez on the ropes the union can be expected to call out the troops. Vacation and sick days could be used en masse to get union members to the frontlines to turn out the vote for Chavez. It is a potent weapon for the mayor, even if one of the local unions that make up AFSCME tried to break away and endorse Romero.


The state GOP has openly supported Berry, registering a finance committee with the city. Without their support Berry would never have been able to collect the necessary signatures and donations to qualify for the ballot and to get public financing. So will the state GOP be going all in during these final, climatic days? Not really, responds GOP acting executive director Ryan Cangliosi. He says the party is mailing out a piece urging voters to reject renewing the quarter cent transit tax for another ten years, but nothing directly in favor of Berry. But voters prone to vote against the tax will also be prone to vote for Berry. This way the GOP avoids triggering the matching funds provision for Chavez and Romero by not directly spending money on RJ.


It appears the R's are going to have to mail a lot to stop the transit tax from being renewed next Tuesday. Our insiders tipped us off to a poll conducted by a pro-tax group earlier this month that showed the tax winning. Now the ABQ Journal comes with its poll that says 57 percent approve of the tax. Add on to that the pro-tax TV ads that are on the air, and the R's can kiss goodbye any chance of killing the levy which brings in some $36 million a year.


It was the 1993 mayoral run-off when the political landscape last changed as dramatically in a city contest, not the 2001 mayoral election. We blogged otherwise Monday. In '93, Chavez was in a run-off with former GOP Governor Dave Cargo and initial polling showed Chavez ahead by more than 20 points. Cargo closed rapidly in the final days and lost by under 600 votes, the closest ABQ mayoral race ever. We should not have made the mistake. We handled Cargo's media in that '93 run-off and in 2001 we did the same for Chavez....

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