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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mayoral Trio Put Through Their Paces On TV Debate; Did It Change The Race? Plus: Don't Get The Oxygen Out Yet; Analyst Says Teague Breathes 

A lively one hour prime time TV debate had the three mayoral hopefuls hopscotching through the major issues of the day, testing their knowledge, poise and ability to think quickly in a way rarely seen on the daily campaign trail. All three vindicated themselves, but the goal of the challengers to change the fundamental path of the contest came up short. We ended where we started--an earnest RJ Berry holding on to his Republican base, an animated Richard Romero exciting his and a well-prepared Mayor Chavez protecting his from any raids. (Full video here. Newspaper coverage here.)

If there was a defining moment in the KOB-TV debate, it may have come in the back and forth over whether ABQ is a "Sanctuary City." RJ Berry asked Mayor Chavez why city police do not adopt the more aggressive policy of the Bernalillo County Sheriff in ferreting out possible illegal immigrants when they make arrests. Chavez quickly responded by enumerating how murder, auto theft and other crimes have risen dramatically in the areas where the tougher policy is in effect. Besides blowing a big hole in Berry's argument, it exposed the soft underbelly of the Republican strategy--in working to take out Chavez, they are seeking almost exclusively Republican votes which will make up less than a third of the turnout October 6.

Berry's continued tough talk on immigration signaled to analysts that he was not making a play for Hispanics and independents in the final days, reducing the threat that he will be able to grow beyond the low 30's on Election Night.

The Alligator consensus has Berry in second place in this battle, and Democrat Richard Romero seemed to know it. He worked hard to upend Chavez, but it was no easy task. He hammered the mayor over raiding funds meant to improve roads and parks to balance the city's regular operating budget. But Chavez twice pointed out how the city budget was "approved unanimously" by the city council.

Romero's most effective moment and Chavez's weakest came when Romero scoffed at Chavez's contention that the city had built a strong private sector economy and that it has helped ABQ weather the recession. Romero rattled off the list of companies that have announced layoffs in the past year--"Comcast, Eclipse, GE, Advent." He sounded like the high school principal he once was, but he may have forgotten one lesson--keep pounding the point.

In the latter part of the hour broadcast live from the ABQ Academy, Berry scored points when he argued for term limits, reinforcing the most effective part of his campaign TV spot that mentions Chavez. Berry was the fresh face on the stage and the one best positioned to take advantage of the anti-incumbent contingent in the electorate. "What is he going to accomplish in 16 years that he hasn't in 12?" queried Berry, delivering the money line that has been the most potent for him.

But what the NE Heights state representative gained, he lost when Chavez tore into him for not agreeing to release his tax returns. Chavez and Romero have agreed to the request, but Berry, who operates a construction company with his wife, demurred. He pointed out that he filled out the required city forms detailing where he gets his income. But Chavez pounced like a hungry cheetah.

"I know it's not comfortable, but the public has a right to now. That's open and transparent government." Chavez nearly gloated.

Like the Sanctuary City issue, the tax return matter did not help Berry with independents. He must be stewing over it. There was Marty Chavez, previously mired in the ABQPAC scandal, the airport observation deck scandal, the recent Bode aviation pay-to-play charges and he was grabbing the high ground on ethics. Chavez had to relish the moment as much as Berry dreaded it.

THE MEDIA BEAT

The TV face-off was the one and only chance for ABQ voters to get an unfiltered look at the candidates on one of the big network affiliates. We sometimes shudder when we hear of remote broadcasts in the NM market as they have often been hobbled by technical glitches that disrupt the proceedings. But that was not the case last night. The production went off without a hitch and was visually appealing with the candidates cast against a blue backdrop. The signature of KOB-TV political debates in recent years is to have the moderators not get in the way of the main event. Anchors Tom Joles and Nicole Brady carried on that tradition, throwing out what seemed a constant stream of questions and requests for rebuttal, but not needlessly interjecting themselves or interrupting for annoying station promotions. Nicely done.

MORE MAYOR MEDIA BEAT

RJ Berry was thrown a break by the ABQ Journal in its coverage of Mayor Chavez's attack of Berry's assertion that he is a "successful businessman." The paper picked up on the Chavez mail piece first blogged here Monday, but did not go into detail over the ownership of Cumbre Construction, the company that Berry operates with his wife Maria, who is the owner. The Journal notes that Cumbre benefitted from its status as a "woman owned" enterprise. They did not say "minority and woman owned," leaving alone the Chavez implication that Berry was using his Hispanic wife to get federal contracts.

There's a bunch of campaign hit mail now circulating as the campaign nears its peak. It looks like the Journal has gathered up most of the hits and comes with this review.

EVEN MORE MAYOR MEDIA BEAT

The Alibi says Mayor Marty is played out and it's time for Mayor Romero. The liberal weekly, which circulates heavily the University of New Mexico area, also endorsed city council candidates Ike Benton, Don Harris and Michael Cadigan. The ABQ Journal will probably come with its endorsement this Sunday and Chavez is favored to get it.

TEAGUE OR NO TEAGUE?
Rep. Teague
We're detecting quite a split in opinion between the East coast and observers here on the ground on the importance of the climate change bill on the southern congressional race featuring incumbent Dem Harry Teague and Republican challenger Steve Pearce. Many Eastern analysts we've read see Teague's vote for a "cap and trade" measure as putting him near death's door when it comes to his re-election chances, but analysts and Alligators here on the ground don't see it as clear cut.

A most recent example from the East is the analysis from the ABQ Journal Washington bureau reporter Michael Coleman who termed it a "questionable political decision" for Teague to attend a D.C. fundraiser co-hosted by Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Dem who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is an ardent liberal backer of cap and trade. Coleman is right that it is "questionable," but the answer to the question does not necessarily cut against the freshman lawmaker.

Democrat analyst and pollster Harry Pavlides, who has worked the Southern district, does not see the cap and trade issue as the make and break vote for Teague. He says that vote will be the one Teague casts on the public option in a national health care plan. He expects Teague to vote nay.

"The cap and trade vote is rallying the Republican base, but it will be difficult to extend it district wide. If I were Teague I would cast it as a vote that was good for the country and the future--a patriotic approach. He is an oil man and that will also give him cover. The votes that he will lose on cap and trade are already for Pearce. His attending that Waxman fund-raiser could result in goodies for Teague--for example, better committee assignments down the road and more federal goodies for his district," Analyzed Pavlides.

Pavlides sees the Teague-Pearce race being decided in the Dona Ana County area, not in the southeastern oil counties. He says that it is extremely unlikely Pearce will be able to get more than 65 percent of the vote against an incumbent US congressman in the SE and sees the race going to populous Dona Ana where cap and trade is not necessarily a dirty phrase. He also pooh-poohs the notion of a voter uprising against Teague in that county that gave him a 15,000 plus vote win in 2008. The "Tea Parties" and other protests are drawing from the Republican and conservative base, not expanding it, Pavlides argues, and sites national polling to back up his contention.

"The question is turnout, especially among Hispanics. Teague can withstand the cap and trade controversy. What you are seeing unfold is a Democratic strategy of building Teague up in Dona Ana. The energy secretary visited there recently and the secretary of agriculture has a visit scheduled. You are going to see more and more of this, probably culminating with a visit by President Obama in the final days of the election. They are not sending these folks to the conservative counties because that's not where the election is going to be decided." Opined Pavlides.

For sure, some powerful stuff will be coming Harry Teague's way. That's how it is when your party controls the White House and United States Congress. R's have done an excellent job in raising expectations for Pearce, but veteran voices here are saying Teague is headed for a heated scrap, but is far from being on life-support.

PRC FOLLOW-UP

That southern race for the Public Regulation Commission made news this week when incumbent Sandy Jones signaled he will seek the Dem nod for state land commissioner, leaving the PRC after one term. We listed former PRC commissioner Tony Schaefer of Las Cruces as a possible candidate for the Jones seat, but Schaefer tells us: "I am not running."

We erred when we called Tony a Republican. He was an R when he won a PRC back in the 90's but later became a Dem and he says he remains one today. Former Dem Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley wants to run for the Jones seat and is expected to make a formal announcement soon.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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