Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bloom Not Off Bingaman; Poll Has Him At 56% Approval & Stomping Heather, Plus: Low Opinion Ratings For Heinrich & Lujan, And: Energy Crunch Watch 

Chances are growing that the 2010 NM US Senate race could be a bust. Fresh polling shows Jeff Bingaman garnering a 56% approval rating, potential Republican challenger Heather Wilson trailing far behind in a theoretical match-up with him and no other heavyweight R's poised to take on Bingaman who is expected to announce by the end of March that he will seek a sixth term.

The PPP poll, conducted among 545 state voters, shows Bingaman defeating Wilson in a head-to-head match by a healthy 19 points. It's Jeff 56% and Heather 37%. He landslides her by 28 points among crucial independent voters. Those are not the kind of numbers that are going to encourage the former five term ABQ GOP congresswoman to fire up a multi-million dollar campaign.

It's true that it is still quite early, but both Bingaman and Wilson are very well-known, giving this first neutral survey of the '12 cylce more import than it normally might have. What could Wilson, who has said she is considering a Senate run, do to change opinions about Bingaman, now the state's senior senator and chairman of the energy committee? She would seem to need the environment to start drifting back to that of 2010.

We've talked about the changing mood of the electorate since the anger drenched 2010 balloting and these numbers track that trend. Bingaman, 67, bottomed out at 50% approval in the polls last fall and now has grown back to 56%. PPP says that makes him more popular in his home state than all but four of 77 of his Senate colleagues the firm has polled.

The margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 4.2 percent. It was taken mostly over this past weekend (Feb, 4-6).

Wilson appeared to be trying to get back in the game by becoming chairwoman of Governor Martinez's transition team. She completed that task with mixed to good reviews. It appears it did little to rehab her image which has taken a hit since she ran for and lost the 2008 GOP US Senate primary against Steve Pearce. Heather's unfavorable rating is 45% and her favorable 39%. She even loses to ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich in a theoretical match-up for the Senate seat--50% to 39%.

If Wilson, 50, bypasses the contest, which now seems more likely, it will be interesting to see what NM GOP Chairman Monty Newman and company do for a candidate. Will they look for a heavy or go with token opposition? Craig Sowards of Las Cruces is an announced GOP candidate, but PPP did not even do a match-up featuring him against Bingaman. He is not seen as a top-tier contender. Another GOP candidate is unknown Bill English of Alamogordo.

The PPP pollsters did put the name of former NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson up against Bingaman. Gary fared much better than Heather with Jeff beating him 51% to 40%. But a close friend and adviser of Gary's told me after the poll was released he has zero interest in running for the Senate and is still concentrating on a possible 2012 GOP presidential run. Also, his drug legalization stance could make winning a GOP Senate primary problematic.


While Heinrich scores well in a theoretical run against Wilson, look at this--opinion of him is not all that high. 39% have a favorable opinion of Heinrich while 34% don't. If the poll has it right, this is a bit of a bright spot for the GOP. They came close to bumping him off last November, but Heinrich manged a second term win. This time around ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis is already off and running. He's formed an exploratory committee and begun raising money.

The name of GOP Bernalillo County Commissoner Wayne Johnson was floated here recently as another possible GOP candidate for the Heinrich seat, but he is telling friends he is not running.

These polling numbers are sure to buoy Lewis, but there is a long way to go and Heinrich isn't the type of politician to let things slide.

Up North, Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is also feeling the breath of a disgruntled electorate, securing a 36% favorable opinion with 34% unfavorable. Lujan was re-elected to a second term in November with about 57%. His heavy Dem seat is seen as safe. R Tom Mullins of Farmington says he is looking at making a second run at Lujan after losing out in his first attempt.

Republican Congressman Steve Pearce gets 35% approval while 44% disapprove. No major Dem names are yet circulating to take on Steve next year.

While the anti-incumbent fervor has died down some, as reflected in Bingaman's improving fortunes, these numbers for House members Heinrich and Lujan indicate there is still much displeasure in this electorate. The lousy economy--highlighted by high unemployment-- around here is the obvious reason.


Bingaman has become an iconic political figure, first elected in 1982 and not having a serious re-election challenge since '94. But R's can still hope. Among them is longtime politics watchers Larry Ahrens who tries to make a case for bumping Bingaman:

Senator Bingaman voted with all the D’s to support the ObamaCare health spending bill and to turn away R efforts to repeal it. Perhaps Bingaman thought it was a “safe” vote. But he’s now on record as supporting the bill as-is. If the legislation gets ruled unconstitutional, if health care premiums continue to rise, if more deficits, spending and bureaucracy come to light--then this routine vote will be used against him by his yet-to-be-determined R opponent.

That's a lot of "ifs," Larry. We'll we watching for the "whens."


Under different circumstances the continuing speculation among national pundits about Governor Martinez possibly becoming a contender for the 2012 GOP vice presidential nomination might go down better. But right now it seems downright dangerous.

Martinez and New Mexico have a full plate of issues before them. Speculation that would have her leaving the state and seeking national political office strikes a discordant note. Voters just went through that with "President Richardson." But that's not going to stop the talk. From the Politico:

For a candidate who struggles to connect with women voters, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire or Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico might help broaden the GOP’s reach. Martinez, along with Rubio and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, could help a nominee who’s unappealing to Hispanics.

Both Governors Johnson and Richardson have been on and off the presidential trail. This is the third Governor in a row that is getting the national treatment. But considering the state of the state, the third time is not the charm.


We noted that a couple of our Alligators peg Victor Raigoza as the frontrunner to take the chairmanship of the Bernalillo County Democratic Party over incumbent Ana Canales. But not all agree. To the e-mail:

You’ve got Victor as the “front-runner”? Thanks for the chuckle, Joe. Victor is largely seen within the party as a do-nothing who’s good for a great speech every now and then, but who’s never done a lick of work to move the party forward. If he gets more than 35% of the vote I’ll be very surprised...

Well, the lines are now drawn. And we are going to have to stick with calling Raigoza the frontrunner as a Senior Alligator weighed in, joining a handful of others, in calling Raigoza the favorite. The Canales Vs. Raigoza contest will be settled by the county Dem central committee March 19.


Back on the weather beat and a reader email on ABQ police (and firemen) being sent up north to help turn on gas at homes doing without:

Is there a reasonable explanation for why the "Berry-White" administration is sending Albuquerque city police vehicles with highly paid city law enforcement professionals to the City of Espanola to turn on gas at the direction of the Governor? Maybe there is a very reasonable explanation (i.e. the City receiving state funds for an emergency response team, etc. which would make sense that they could be on call for statewide emergencies.

Police Chief Ray Schultz told TV news he will worry about the cost later. That his first concern is providing assistance to the north. But these are not the days of the Bull Market and how anything is paid for is never far from taxpayers' minds--no matter the circumstances.


A reader, a Democrat, writes:

The most telling thing about the natural gas crisis and the Martinez Administration's handling of it is that they failed to seek federal assistance (FEMA) and had to be prompted by Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. Why isn't she tapping the Weather Assistance Program for skilled labor and additional help?

Why is it?

One, they refused any transition training or help from Department heads or employees that could have helped them be ready. Martinez didn't even know to move on FEMA money or where to go for other resources as soon as the crisis hit? Now, once the gas is back on in the North, there are still lots of financial issues like loss of business income, clean up, etc. What does this say about the Administration except uninformed and ill-prepared? Secondly, rather than looking for all the resources to solve the problem, she wants to point the finger at someone. She and her staff can try to shed the blame on NM Gas Co., but this was an early defining moment which will not be soon forgotten.

Martinez says it's likely a request will be made to FEMA for federal aid but it isn't a pressing issue. Well, if the bills continue to mount from this energy crisis, it will be.

Speaking of the feds, this comes from the state's congressional delegation:

The New Mexico congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency will host a forum this week in Española that will bring together federal agencies and nonprofits to discuss assistance available to eligible New Mexicans whose homes and businesses were affected by last week’s storm. The forum will take place from 10 a.m.-noon on Thursday, February 10, at Mission Museum, 1 Calle de los Españoles, Española. A variety of federal agencies and New Mexico nonprofits have been invited.

And another Democratic reader, Chris Catechis of ABQ, writes:

Joe, I hope you are doing well; as always the first thing I do in the morning is have my cup of coffee and read your blog. I wanted to respond to today's (Tuesday's) blog about Governor Martinez. Someone on her staff may want to remind her that the campaign is over and it's now time to lead. She has allowed a minor crisis to become a major one. As far as the gas officials personal assurances to her, she may want to look to Republican Ronald Regan's old saying of "Trust, but verify" when it comes to future crisis.

Susana announced late Tuesday that just about all the gas had been turned back on in the northern communities. Our Dem critics have a point and Susana took a hit for the delay in restoring gas service. Looking ahead, it is probably not the repercussions of this week that worry her the most, but the prospect of it happening again.


The NM Gas Company has set up a million dollar fund to deal with claims filed by customers who have had broken pipes, property damage and business interruption because of the outage. That claims number is 1-888-NM-GAS-CO.

A million bucks is probably not going to even put a dent in the number of claims the company sis going to see before this is all over.


Reader Tommie Newman of Clovis writes of the gas crunch in Taos:

Joe, I spoke with my family to see how they were managing. I was so impressed and honestly proud of how they were handling the situation. Not complaining but making sure those without heat were helped or taken in. I was amazed at the attitude of my brother and sister and I suspect many others in Taos reacted the same…They buckled down and did whatever they could to deal with a very bad situation. I don’t pretend to understand energy policies or why this happened and an investigation is certainly in order, but I can sure see what Northern New Mexicans are made of. I’d share a foxhole with a Taosean every time. They’re made of tough stuff!

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