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Friday, October 22, 2010

No Body Tackles, But Jabs: Our Coverage Of The Final Guv Debate of Campaign 2010, Plus: More On Barela Social Security Trap, And: Pearce Pulls Away 

The women who would be Governor switched from full-body tackles to steady jabbing in their final televised debate before voters render their verdict Nov. 2.

Democrat Diane Denish and Republican Susana Martinez were not exactly kinder and gentler, but they did ditch their cage fighting personalities and hint that they knew the definition of civility. That made their hour long KOB-TV face-off eminently more watchable than their Sunday night KOAT confrontation. That new New Mexico low in nasty had viewers frantically looking for their remotes or fleeing to their X-boxes. (Full KOB-TV debate here.)

The evening started with a seemingly impossible request--talk for a couple of minutes about what you would do as Governor without attacking your opponent. It was like asking a bear to not eat the honey, but the Guv gals (and the state) welcomed the reprieve from the incessant onslaught of negativity that has been the hallmark of this race. After that little tea break, we were off to the races...

For those who like knock-outs and falls to canvas, this debate offered neither. Front-runner Martinez ensured that the fundamental lay of the land was not changed by not committing the dreaded major gaffe. She played more defense than usual, giving Di a wider berth. The Light Guv was more dominant in the hour, scoring points, but not a major moment that might break the contest open. She did a lot, but she still left the studios needing something big to happen to prevent a Governor Martinez.

Denish came armed with more fresh material than Jay Leno. She was a "job creator," she declared. Martinez, she warned, would now cut the state budget by "50 percent." And there was the punchline for the Dona Ana DA--"You can't prosecute your way to prosperity."

Di's strongest moment came when she turned around Susana's charge that she is beholden to special interests and that's why the state lags in education. She snapped back that if the children of New Mexico are special interests she is glad to be beholden to them. Susana didn't have a comeback.

Martinez had no singular moment of strength. But she brought her now trademark passion to bear when talking about state corruption and the sins of the "Richardson-Denish" administration.

OUR ANALYSTS' TAKE
Harry Pavlides
Democratic analyst Harry Pavlides thought the night belonged more to Di than Susana, but with an important caveat.

It appears the consultants for both sides listened to the critics and toned things down. Nastiness was mitigated by the issues. It was a win for Denish, but it was a subtle win. She won the debate, but not the day as there was no big moment to change anything.

GOP analyst Greg Payne would not give the win to Denish. He grudgingly admitted she did well. But added:

Susana won simply because there was no defining moment. She embodies the mood of the nation and therefore her message of change resonates more than Diane's.

OUR TAKE

From our corner, Denish's weakest moment may have been when she agreed with Martinez that the major accomplishment of the Richardson administration was cutting the personal income tax as well as the capital gains tax.

Denish was playing to a conservative electorate that is most likely to vote in this election. The problem is that in order to win Denish has to change the make-up of that voter pool so it includes more rank and file working class Democrats. A tax cutting message is not what turns them on.

She also centered much of her firepower on "predatory lending," making it out to be a much more significant issue in the lives of everyday voters than it is in reality. And we heard more about "micro-lending" as a job creation tool, an esoteric phrase that again does little to get the Democratic base out of their seats and change the outcome of this election.

What about rescuing Medicaid? A woman's right to choose? A direct state investment in job creation? Increasing taxes on the rich if tax increases ever are needed? All of them are high-risk, but also high reward. Denish is at 42% in the polls, but many of her themes are for a 49% campaign.

For Martinez's weakness you go back to Denish's slogan--"You can't prosecute your way to prosperity." Much of the corruption Susana and the mainstream media obsess over was a result of Governor Big Bill raising money for his presidential campaign and making what looks like pay to play deals in the process. It was bad, very bad, but it is in the past. Yes, there is other serious corruption, but Martinez will find that the economic issues will be what's served up to her if and when she makes it to Santa Fe, not possible indictments of wayward politicos.

KEY TO THE RACE

So much of politics is capturing the contemporary zeitgeist. Martinez is in the moment. She is a hard-charging, angry prosecutor when the public is angry over lost jobs and in fear of the future. She would be the first Hispanic female governor as the state's Hispanic population continues to grow and she is a new face when voters are tired of eight years of the old ones.

Di's often well-aimed arrows seem to bounce off Susana's armor, composed from the marrow of vox populi. The key line in the Martinez campaign has not come in the TV debates or in her stump speeches. It comes at the end of one of her ubiquitous TV spots where she says, "If you're ready for something new..."

The pain of the past and present is all washed away in that one hopeful line brimming with possibility. Beneath all the muck, mud, distortions and half-truths, it is that very American longing that shapes this campaign.

LIZ AND JON

The ABQ Journal took a look at what was one of the most powerful congressional ads of the cycle. It featured 69 year old Liz Sumruld warning ABQ GOP US House hopeful Jon Barela "not to mess with my Social Security."

ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich has accused Barela of favoring privatizing Social Security by allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security payroll taxes in the stock market.

Barela says the powerful ad is deceitful because Liz says she "couldn't get by" without her $530 Social Security check. Liz and her husband have an annual income of $45,000 in pensions and Social Security. They also own some classic cars that the husband has restored. However, Liz has prescription drug bills that total $587 a month. The front-page article was accompanied by a photo of the restored classic cars with the headline "Not Quite Down And out."

Let's take a closer look. If Liz and husband Tom did not get Social Security their annual income would be about $38,640. From that she would have to pay over $7,000 out of pocket for her medicine. That would take their annual income down to around $31,600. That would translate to about $2,636 a month, assuming the couple pays no income taxes. Then there's their property tax, utilities and maintenance on their 47 year old home.

Could they get by without their Social Security check? Maybe it all depends on what you believe is "getting by" in America. Is it rudimentary survival we aspire to like much of the world, or is it something better?

The larger point is Barela's contention that he is not in favor of privatizing Social Security. He and conservative talk radio insist Heinrich is lying, but when asked about his position by the Journal shortly after the Liz ad appeared, Barela responded that he did not favor privatizing at least not "at this point." That clearly left the door open for Barela to vote for privatizing Social Security if he were to become the ABQ congressman.

If Barela had closed the door on privatization, he could have had a chance at discrediting Heinrich, but because he didn't the ad worked. It may have cost Barela his opportunity to go to the US House of Representatives.

TEAGUE VS. PEARCE

We blogged the other day to prepare for the political funeral of Harry Teague. Here's a poll to confirm that it's time to get the black crepe paper ready to decorate the southern Dem's door. Republican Steve Pearce has opened up a nine point lead--50 to 41. The survey was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday and paid for by his campaign. But no one is doubting it and the funeral will go on as scheduled.

Pearce knows the game. He is starting to go positive with his closing TV spots.

NAVAJO ACTION

A major development in the Nov. 2 race for president of the Navajo Nation that could tip the contest to NM Dem State Senator Lynda Lovejoy:

A Navajo presidential candidate and his running mate are among tribal officials charged in an investigation of slush funds. Tribal Vice President Ben Shelly faces fraud, conspiracy and theft charges. He says he'll plead not guilty at his arraignment Thursday in tribal court. His running mate, council Delegate Rex Lee Jim, also is charged in the probe.

The tribe's Department of Justice announced Wednesday that criminal complaints had been filed against an unspecified number of people. Eighteen former and current Navajo lawmakers were on the docket to be arraigned Thursday.

How about the timing of this by the tribe's Dept. of Justice. That's sure to get them talking on the Rez.

One more big week to go in Campaign 2010. Join us here and well walk this one home together.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan
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