Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama May Be Back, Plus: Mean TV: Denish & Martinez Clash, Also: Heinrich Vs. Barela, Lujan Vs. Mullins And Brian Colon's Future 

Word is circulating of another New Mexico visit for President Obama. This time Obama would trek to the Hispanic north and Las Vegas in heavily Dem San Miguel County. Nothing confirmed yet, but a visit next week makes sense. With the governorship appearing all but lost--the latest Survey USA released Friday has it 54-42 for Republican Susana Martinez--Obama and the Dems must still work to instill loyalty in their Democratic base. Maybe a lot of them jump to Martinez this time, but you don't want them making voting R a habit. Obama will be counting on all those Dems coming home in 2012. The Prez stopped in ABQ's South Valley in late September, trying to give Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish a boost, but the stop made no appreciable dent in Di's decline.

Denish spent this past weekend mostly in the north, courting various traditional Hispanic Dem strongholds like Las Vegas and Mora. That she has to give those areas special attention so late in the campaign speaks volumes about her weakness there. Thousands of votes were cast Saturday in the big ABQ Metro as early voting got underway in earnest.

While Di battles to bring back the north, she seems defenseless in must-carry ABQ and surroundings. The R base here is energized with good signage up, Susana hitting the voters with robo calls to get them to vote early and a confidence of victory buoyed by polling that a GOP candidate can usually only dream of.

If Di and the Dems can't slow down the Martinez bandwagon, she could score one of the bigger victories in a Governor's race featuring no incumbents. We and others remarked on her landslide abilities in the GOP pre-primary and primary votes. A repeat of those blow-outs is the greatest fear of Dems as it could put in play the down-ballot races that today seem safe.


One thing is for certain after last night's televised gubernatorial debate: you wouldn't want to be in a foxhole with either Susana Martinez or Diane Denish.

In one of the nastiest Guv TV confrontations we can recall, Republican Martinez and Democrat Denish fired salvo after salvo at one another Sunday night. It reached a crescendo when Denish turned directly toward Martinez on the KOAT-TV stage and told the Dona Ana County District Attorney "you are a liar." She was referring to a Martinez TV ad that was found to contain "falsehoods" by an independent fact-check group. Denish had a point, but analyst Brian Sanderoff called the move "over the top." And it got nastier. (Debate video here.)

Martinez, well ahead in the polls, nevertheless acted as if everything was on the line and came armed with a prosecutorial barrage even though this was the courtroom of public opinion, not a court of law. She scowled, glared and accused throughout the one hour confrontation. The intensity was off the charts. If this is the personality Martinez takes to Santa Fe lawmakers will have two choices--hide under their desks or firebomb the Fourth Floor.

Denish morphed from your kindly neighborhood aunt into political serial killer, at one point cornering Martinez demanding a yes or no answer to a question on taxes. The campaign called it the highlight of their candidate's performance.

Democratic analyst Harry Pavlides said the history books will likely record this one for the personal animosity the contenders showed.

The meanness level is so high on both sides, it's hard to say anyone won. Denish was superior when it came to the intellectual side, but Martinez appealed more on a gut level.

When pressed, Pavlides said he did not see the big break out moment Denish may have needed.

But, we asked Pavlides, if Martinez has such a comfortable lead in the polls why did she not show at least a little bit of a softer side as is customary when you have control of the ball.

I just think it's the style of her consultants. Both candidates were damaged by this debate. The appeared to want to win at all costs and nothing else mattered...

We would call it an all-out cat fight but don't want to offend feminists or our feline friends. Even cats know when it's time to get out of the alley.

The two fur-rippers meet for their final debate Thursday night at 7 on KOB-TV.


Martinez's latest TV spot comes with more economic issues after a long campaign focusing on corruption. She still gets in a dig on Di over use of the state jet, but then she comes with her generalized economic stances:

I have a plan to get us back on track: A level playing field, a business friendly state, lower taxes, less waste, and more jobs.

She makes those statements in what appears to be a drug store. A little teddy bear is positioned to her right. Looks like it's time for a warm and fuzzy Susana even though she still looked like a hungry grizzly at last night's debate.


Can Martinez expand the playing field? The GOP is obsessed with her victory--as they should be. But come this time next week, if it is clear she has this thing put away with points to spare, could she come with a plea to voters to "Give me a team to work with?" That would mean pushing particularly hard for GOP Secretary of State candidate Dianna Duran and perhaps Matt Rush for Land Commission, the two statewide down-ballot races that would seem most vulnerable to an entreaty from Martinez. (Although Rush has been saying strange things about a "Christian Nation." lately). She could also try to boost the candidacies of some state GOP legislative candidates by doing some walking and phone banking with them. All this, of course, is contingent on Di staying flat.

One other note, insiders say the campaigns of Martinez and ABQ GOP congressional candidate Jon Barela appear to be working together on some field operations.


Back to the north and the Alligators who bemoan the shifting of Hispanics to Susana. They wonder why Dem US Congressman Ben Ray Lujan has waited so long to get on TV. They think he can help drive the Hispanic vote, but while he has finally come with TV, it is somewhat lackluster. Can he pump things up these final two weeks and help himself and the Dem ticket in the north? New and better TV would help.

There's more cautionary news for Ben Ray who still operates somewhat in the shadow of his famous father--House Speaker Ben Lujan. The elder Lujan narrowly escaped political death in the recent June primary and now the northern the press is starting to wonder out loud about the young Lujan's strength.

By not going on TV early, Ben Ray let Republican foe Tom Mullins look competitive by getting a September poll that showed him trailing by only six--49 to 43. Lujan is positioned for the win, but will he get near that 60 percent level expected of him? We're seeing Mullins TV ads popping up on the 10 p.m. news.

Even with an earlier starting campaign and despite the rookie mistakes of Mullins, that number may have been tough to reach in this GOP oriented year. Still, Lujan has to worry about looking weak and inviting a Democratic primary challenge in two years. The margin of his expected victory Election Night will now be watched more closely than ever. A strong finish would be a great help in quieting the disquiet.


Lujan and Mullins did a KOB-TV debate Saturday night. Video here. Both Lujan and Mullins dropped the ball when it came to proposed low-altitude training flights that would be flown out of Cannon Air Force Base. They are both against the flights. But can't some kind of compromise be crafted?

The new generation of politicians needs to be educated to the fact that most--yes, most--of the New Mexican economy is driven by the federal government. That's been the deal for over 60 years.


The Las Cruces-Sun News is the last of the state's three major papers to come with profiles of the Guv hopefuls.(The ABQ Journal and the New Mexican are the others). The Sun-News also came with the first endorsement of the three papers--they backed Martinez in this editorial. Their main reason? She is a corruption fighter.


Republican challenger Jon Barela showed some muscle in his Friday night TV face-off with ABQ Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich. If only he had an issue. Barela hammered Heinrich over the stimulus and healthcare bills, but the debate may have turned on Social Security, and on that Barela was defenseless. The full KNME-TV debate is posted here.

He demanded that Heinrich pull down his emotional TV spot that charges Barela is for privatizing Social Security. But Heinrich predictably pointed to an ABQ Journal interview with Barela in which the GOP contender left the door open for future privatization.

That exchange led the news out of the debate, so in that sense Heinrich scored a win.

But Barela was a much more polished and effective Heinrich foe than Darren White who he faced in 2008. He pressed the incumbent and even jarred him when Heinrich criticized his record as a private businessman. Barela then revealed that Heinrich had earlier in his term sent Barela a letter inviting him to be on the congressman's business council which advises him on business matters.

Third party groups are flooding the airwaves on behalf of Barela. However, because the ads can't use the candidate and can't be coordinated with the Barela campaign, they are not as potent as those produced by the individual campaigns.

Still, Barela and the Republicans are keeping Heinrich hopping. The race has gone back and forth here from lean Dem to likely Dem. The unpredictability is the voter turnout model. If turnout goes way down, Barela could score the upset. The more likely outcome is Heinrich's re-election but it will be a campaign that the incumbent won't soon forget and maybe positions the 50 year old Barela for something else down the road.


Some in-depth coverage of the Herrera-Duran contest for Secretary of State here and here.

Brian Colon
Despite being diagnosed with a brain tumor GOP State Auditor candidate and retired DEA agent Errol Chavez will complete the campaign, says an e-mail from his campaign director, Christopher Martinez:

I spoke with Errol and he was adamant about staying in this race. Errol has campaigned for more than a year with an all volunteer staff. We each got involved due to the high level of dedication that Errol has for cleaning up this state and stopping the rampant waste, fraud and abuse. Each one of you that is familiar with Errol’s unique background know that this man does not back down from a fight.

Chavez is headed out of state for more treatment. He is from Las Cruces. He is challenging Dem incumbent auditor Hector Balderas. No Republican has been elected auditor since the 1960's. And the campaign is pro forma--no debates or other major events take place in the auditor races.

Balderas has been mentored in state politics by Denish running mate and former NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon who managed Hector's first auditor campaign in '06. Both are now facing uncertain futures with the anticipated election of Martinez. Balderas less so.

Colon has been conducting campaign events on his own, not so unusual but given the possibility of a major defeat, the Alligators have been pointing to this as evidence that Colon is already breaking away from Di and doing damage control. But Colon's survival chances post-election are unclear, They are certainly worse than they were before he started the race. His campaign ad calling Susana a "tejana" may be pointed to as one of the low points of the cycle. Balderas, 37, is said to be eyeing a run for attorney general or even governor in four years, along with a lot of other Democrats.

Balderas has styled himself as a warrior against corruption and has established a good record, but Republicans point to his association with Colon, who is saddled with so much baggage from the Richardson-Denish era. Whether that sticks or not, the Colon-Balderas political love affair seems destined to cool.


A little end of the week burn-out struck us late Thursday night as we came down from an especially powerful combination of caffeine and one of those giant-sized Three Musketeers bars (on sale at Walgreens for a buck forty nine).

In an early blog draft Friday, we said there would be one ABQ congressional TV debate. There are two. The one that was conducted Friday night on KNME-TV and one on Oct. 28 on KOB-TV...And we blogged conflicting ages for former GOP US Rep. Heather Wilson. She will turn 50 on Dec. 30....Finally, we screwed up in relaying a joke former President Clinton told a northern NM rally Friday. Sorry, Mr. President. The traditional 10 lashes with a wet noodle have been administered...

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