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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Guv Run: Susana & Di With Some New Themes At Sunday Debate, Plus: Heinrich Hitting Barela Harder, Prez In Town Today, And: A GOP Hope In Indian Country 

First things first about that Sunday morning Guv debate. Neither candidate presented anything close to a plan to address a gargantuan state money shortfall that could be upwards of $500 million for the budget year starting next July. Once the two hopefuls made it clear that we are in for more "kick-the-can-down-the-road-governance"--they went on to discuss--mostly in generalities--their other plans for our enchanted land should they be deemed worthy by the electorate November 2. But first the style.

Neither of these candidates is going to win a charisma contest. That trophy will be retired with Big Bill. And there is a lethargy about these two, perhaps appropriate to the state of our economy and the current New Mexican body politic. Complete video of the debate is here. Some TV news highlights here.

On a more positive note, Republican Susana Martinez does offer some spunkiness and forthrightness that can engage. Democrat Diane Denish brings a a low-key passion that rings of caring and competence.

Strategically, Martinez was night and day compared with the first Guv debate held in August on education issues. Then, a very strident Martinez pummeled Denish over the seamy side of the Big Bill administration. Not Sunday. As we've been telling you ad nauseum, it appears Martinez has milked the corruption cow for all the milk it can give. Its gotten her to the upper 40's, but not her nose across the finish line. So Sunday at the traditional ABQ Congregation Albert face-off she showed up as a school marm for undecided voters. Suddenly,  education is her top priority.

She only occasionally mentioned the corruption theme that has taken her to the cusp of victory and still saturates the airwaves. It wasn't exactly a warm and fuzzy Susana, but at least it wasn't cold and prickly. Whether we will be seeing less corruption ads and more on education on the tube remains to be seen, but October is a long month. She needs to broaden the message.

She was cautious, controlled and obviously trying not to make a mistake. Can't blame her. Even Di's own polling has Susana at 49%. The DA did revert to prosecutorial form near the end of their hour-long confrontation, but for the most part presented a more moderate personality--one that is more likely to get her the prize she seeks.

As for Di, a veteran of the warfare of La Politica, she finds herself in the unusual role of underdog. And she played it to the hilt, delivering attack after attack against the Dona Ana County DA. She used her new-found populism that Susana is not "on your side” and is beholden to the interest of “big corporations." She did this with a drone, but followed her talking points and also made sure to mention she is a native New Mexican and that the El Paso born Martinez likes to take big Texas contributions. Is she starting to connect with the Democratic base?

It was somewhat ironic to hear Denish hammering the corruption argument more than Susana, repeatedly reminding the in-person audience and the one listening on radio about Martinez's financial controversies in her DA's office. (Susana leveled another charge of her own, but it didn't seem to have much legs.)

Hands down, Denish has Martinez beat on experience and policy specifics. But Martinez came with a line that is almost always powerful after eight years of any administration: "I represent change." She declared. And she finally started to talk some--not much--about the future, not just her version of a depressing past.

Denish has to do more--much more-- to make New Mexicans feel that change is a threat--not a relief. She has a month to do it.

WAY IT PLAYED

The AP came with this lead on the debate:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish sought Sunday to shift the focus of the race away from Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, which has been a punching bag for rival Republican Susana Martinez.

With polls showing Martinez with an advantage in the governor's race, Denish played the aggressor at a debate at Congregation Albuquerque synagogue. She described the Republican as beholden to the oil and gas industry, large corporations and out-of-state political contributors — "Texas money." One Texas couple has donated $450,000 to Martinez's campaign.


 TV ACTION

 Denish is carrying her populist theme to TV, coming with an ad that says: "Republican Martinez and her Texas backers would let corporations run wild."

The ad also makes hay over Martinez's latest hit piece accusing Denish of being caught in a scandal. It points out how that take has been shot down by the nonpartisan Factcheck.org.

There is more class warfare and populism in this ad and it is harder hitting. This approach is meeting with some success for other Dem candidates around the nation. Denish has run a relatively smooth campaign since making early mistakes in June, but the rap on her is that she is not exciting her base voters nor tamping down enthusiasm for Martinez. This ad raises the temperature some and you would expect some stuff that's even hotter soon. That is if the Dem is going to catch the GOP front-runner.

As for the Texas theme, New Mexico has a long list of carpetbagging politicians--including big Bill--but being born and raised in the Lone Star State as Martinez was rings a different set of emotional bells. Texans and New Mexicans have not had the highest of opinions of one another. At this point, you have to assume that taking the Texas connection to the statewide tube was poll tested by the Denish campaign and that it hits paydirt.

HEINRICH VS. BARELA

The latest TV in this race for the ABQ congressional seat gets a tad more personal as Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich comes with an attack on Republican Jon Barela's lobbying history for Intel Corp.

While New Mexico workers struggle, Jon Barela's been fighting to create jobs--in foreign companies. Barela was a D.C. Lobbyist pushing to let George W. Bush negotiate unfair trade deals. Made deals that made it easier for corporations to ship our jobs to India and China.

In case you were wondering if an attack involving Intel might be dangerous for Heinrich considering that the chip manufacturer is a major employer around here, Keep in mind that just about all of Rio Rancho lies outside the ABQ district. Also, the company has gone from peak hiring of over 5,500 to a work force of now just 3,100.

National R's are still eyeing this seat for a big TV money drop. Freshman Heinrich isn't taking any chances. If he escapes their sights this time, history says the soon-to-be 39 year old could end up holding the seat for decades. 

DI WADES IN

Denish has waded into the usually politically untouchable subject of merging the two Las Vegas school districts. She says the time for consolidation is now. Will that help or hurt her Election Night? The Dems count on huge majorities from San Miguel County.

NATIONAL SUSANA

Hispanic Republicans was the focus of this Wall Street Journal piece that featured Susana:

There is a stereotype that Hispanics must be in favor of different policies than I am expressing, and that's not what I'm finding at all," said New Mexico GOP gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez, who would be the country's first elected female Hispanic governor.

Ms. Martinez, a prosecutor, has aired television ads in which she stands at the border and promotes her record convicting criminals who sneaked in from Mexico. She promises to end state laws that she says make it easy for illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, is stepping down due to term limits.

It should be noted that Martinez ran those tough immigration spots during the GOP primary election and not any so far in the general election when more moderate voters turn out at the polls.

But Martinez's tough immigration stance (she has not explicitly backed the controversial Arizona Law) has received a warmer greeting than many might expect. The poor economy is probably one reason.

PREZ IN TOWN

President Obama will touch down in ABQ tonight for a somewhat low-key visit Tuesday in which TV news says he will meet with a "retired veteran" at a South Valley home then have a "backyard" discussion on the  economy. The TV cameras will be there, of course, but otherwise not much public. We speculated when the visit was first announced about whether Diane Denish could hitch a ride on the PR wagon. We haven't heard anything, but Obama could be expected to make a return visit to the state in October and come in firing on all campaign cylinders. (VP Biden hosts a Thursday ABQ fund-raiser for Di). The Prez approval rating in the late August Journal poll was at 50% in the ABQ metro, but at 64% in the Hispanic North. And that's the region Denish could use some help to get Dem voters out.

As for Mr. President, with a 50% overall state approval rating, he is in better shape for 2010 here than elsewhere, but still vulnerable. Much will depend on who the R's nominate.

PEARCE PROBLEM

Steve Pearce has a Social Security problem. No, the 61 year old doesn't have to worry about collecting his check. Like Dem Congressman Harry Teague who he is running against, Steve has a fortune from the oil business. But his campaign keeps insisting that he never called for privatizing Social Security--not even partially. But Pearce did indeed advocate partially privatizing of SS when he served in the US House.

It was a new ad from Teague that got this argument going again. From the Pearce camp:

This week Congressman Harry Teague launched a campaign ad which falsely accuses Steve Pearce of supporting privatizing social security.  Pearce does not support privatizing social security and never has.

"Never has" is the operative phrase. Pearce explicitly advocated a partial privatization of Social Security. The ABQ Journal's Michael Coleman bent over backwards in a recent column to give Pearce a break on this, but  still concluded that Pearce had advocated "partial" privatization.



And here is Coleman's February 2005 piece where Pearce's partial privatization plan is discussed in detail.

If Pearce wants to say he was mistaken to take that position, fine. But to fudge your position on a program so vital to the well-being of hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans doesn't cut the mustard.

This is the second time this year the Pearce campaign has asserted a different position than the former congressman took. We busted them for it back in March and today we say, "Busted Again!"

ENDORSEMENT CORNER

A prominent business group that endorses some Democrats? That's a rarity, but it happened with the first-ever endorsement of legislative candidates by the Association of Commerce and Industry. In the metro area the group gives the nod to GOP state House hoepfuls David Doyle, Nate Gentry and incumbents Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Rep. Jimmie Hall, but outside of ABQ the Dem names show up:

District 32: Dona Irwin (D) incumbent
District 36: Andy Nunez (D) incumbent
District 37: Terry McMillan (R)
District 43: Jeannette Wallace (R) incumbent
District 52: Joseph Cervantes (D) incumbent
District 55: John Heaton (D) incumbent
District 58: Candy Ezell (R) incumbent

The group said this year is  is endorsing candidates who will vote pro-jobs and work to create a better economic environment for the state.."

ACI is headed by Beverlee McClure who was Big Bill's cabinet secretary for higher education so there is a Democratic connection. Still, bipartisan endorsements from a major business group could help foster a more inclusive dialogue on how we can get the state's economy moving again. Maybe the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and others can take some tips from Bev and company?

THE BEAR MARKET

How brutal has this Bear Market been for real estate? We take you to Rio Rancho
where it appears the bottom in land prices was reached last year:

The average selling price of land sold by (Amrep) in Rio Rancho was $92,000 per acre in 2010 and $60,200 per acre in 2009. The average gross profit was about 40 percent in 2010 and 76 percent in 2009.

And what can you say about Susana Martinez's pledging not to raise any taxes during a four year term for Governor. Denish chips in that tax increases are off the table for "several years." This comes as the state faces hundreds of millions in shortfalls. How do they expect to govern with statements like that? They don't they are only thinking about winning. Political pandering never goes out of style. Well, at least neither of them said, "Read my lips..."

Yikes! The gross receipts tax in Ruidoso is now pushing 9 percent after votes approved a bump in the tax to help the Ruidoso Downs racetrack and casino pay its state taxes. We're at 7 percent in ABQ. 

GOP INROADS IN INDIAN COUNTRY
Gary Montoya
We're getting mail from Indian Country about what is being painted as a suprise endorsement of a Republican in the race for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. Here is a release from the campaign of GOP PRC candidate Gary Montoya:

Gary Montoya won the overwhelming endorsement of the Northern Navajo Agency Council at Teec Nos Pos Chapter on Saturday, September 18. The agency council’s endorsement is significant because the council’s membership is comprised of locally elected leadership representing over 17 local Navajo communities located primarily in New Mexico. Further, most of the local leaders are heavily Democrat and Navajo. The Agency Council during that same meeting also issued a blanket endorsement of all state-wide Democratic candidates including Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish...

Well, Gary, you've convinced us this is a significant endorsement over Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, your Democratic foe who was appointed to the powerful utility-regulating PRC to fill a vacancy and is now seeking this Northwest area seat. But the seat has been held by a Navajo since its inception and is drawn that way. Can Montoya, who works in maintenance for the Shiprock area school district, still make a play? A supporter emails in:

Gary's wife is a Navajo teacher who teaches in Shiprock. Big plus. He married her in a hogan in a traditional Navajo ceremony. They have four kids and have been married 28 years. But the big story is that Montoya comes from Spanish stock, but was raised by his Navajo stepmother and is considered a Navajo by the Navajos.

I think the Northern Navajo Agency endorsed Montoya and not Becenti-Aguilar because he...has spent his life on the Rez. She has been gone from the Rez about 27 years. Navajos resent her discovery of Navajo roots and Rez now at election time. I imagine the Teresa Becenti-Aguilar campaign is reeling from rejection of her candidacy by Navajos.

Good coverage there of one of those "only in New Mexico" campaigns." No wonder they say....

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