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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spotlight Returns To Campaign Trail; Candidates Position In Early Going, Open ABQ House Seat Anticipated, Plus: Possible Foe For Senate Leader Sanchez 

The spotlight turns back to the campaign trail now that the legislative session is history. Here's the latest action....

ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis is prepping for a Sunday, April 3 formal entry into the race for the Republican nomination for the US House seat held by Dem Rep. Martin Heinrich. An invitation has gone out for the mid-afternoon event at the Hotel ABQ near Old Town. Earlier this year, Lewis, a pastor, formed an exploratory committee.

Sunday announcements can often benefit a candidate. It is usually a light news day, but a heavily watched TV evening so your event gets some pretty decent coverage.

Former ABQ GOP State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones has said she has formed an exploratory committee and may join Lewis in the race for the nomination.

NAME GAME

The GOP nomination could be valuable. If Heinrich, as expected, vacates the House seat to which he was elected in 2008 and seeks the Senate seat being vacated by Dem Jeff Bingaman, chances of the R's taking his House seat go up.

There is an early problem for the Dems, too. They have no really big names lined up to replace Heinrich. That could change if and when he announces for the Senate. The names being tossed around include Lawrence Rael, who ran for the Dem nod for Lt. Governor last year, former Dem Party Chairman John Wertheim who was the party's nominee for the seat in '96 and lost to Republican Steve Schiff, Terry Brunner, a former staffer for Bingaman who is now state director for USDA Rural Development, Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham who ran against Heinrich for the nomination in 2008 and State Senator Eric Griego.

Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks is another possible, but more likely to seek the attorney general's office in 2014. State Rep. Al Park is another on the list, but may opt for a 2012 PRC run.

CHAIR BATTLE

All this presents a challenge to the Dems as they seek to regain momentum after multiple setbacks in '10. To that end, attorney Sam Bregman continues to mount an aggressive challenge against current Dem Party Chairman Javier Gonzales, saying the majority party needs to talk louder and carry a bigger stick.

Gonzales is thought to have widespread support among the over 400 Dem Central Committee members who will decide the matter at the end of April, but Bregman scored when the executive committee of the ABQ firefighter union endorsed his candidacy. Union head Diego Arnecon says the decision was not easy, but "union rights are under attack everywhere" and he sees the need for "vigorous leadership" that he believes Bregman can better provide than Gonzales. Bregman also won the backing of the local paramedics union.

THE SENATE PRIZE


Back on the Senate race, Heinrich is the favorite to take the Dem nomination to replace the retiring Bingaman, but is no sure thing. Others, including 2010 Guv nominee Diane Denish, continue to weigh a bid. Supporters of Heinrich know it could be a fight. That's why the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, an environmental group that has long backed Heinrich, probably came with an early poll of the race. It showed Martin leading Diane 32 percent to her 25 percent. One of our Alligators came with this analysis of the early skirmishing:

Diane is poking her nose further into the senate race, but she's moving very slow in the belief that she can take her time and a final decision need not be made until months from now. That explains Defenders of Wildlife getting a poll out there. Defenders likes to get in these Dem primaries early and fight for their preferred candidate, in this case that is Heinrich. You might recall they did the same think back in 2008 when Tom Udall was being opposed for the Senate nomination by Marty Chavez.

The poll had quite a small sample. It only surveyed 213 voters March 8-10 and has a margin of error of nearly 7 percent. Viewed in that light, Heinrich's lead could be much narrower.

Northern Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, who is not expected to make the race, polled 15 percent. That's not to say that Ben Ray wouldn't be a formidable primary contender. State Auditor Hector Balderas, who says he is "95 percent in," polled only 5 percent. If he fails to catch fire for the Senate at least his name ID will be up if he goes for attorney general in '14.

Heinrich, who R's say is too liberal to be a Senator, is already full embracing the traditional role of a NM Senator--defending all manners of national security funding that pour into the state.

The most likely scenario now is that Heinrich comes into the race and we wait and see if one strong Hispanic challenger emerges to take him on.

THE R SIDE


On the Republican side, now that the legislative session is history Lt. Governor John Sanchez is expected to announce soon whether he will seek the GOP nomination and take on former ABQ GOP congresswoman Heather Wilson who has already announced her Senate candidacy.

Sanchez will head to DC this week to attend a national conference of Light Guvs. He can be expected to meet with officials of the Republican senate committee as he mulls his bid. His team stumbled a bit recently in responding to national publications who said his candidacy was imminent. The Sanchez operatives did not want anything coming out during the legislative session.

Sanchez earned good reviews for his service as presiding officer of the State Senate in the just concluded session. He served one term in the state House about 10 years ago. One of the papers carried a nice snapshot of Sanchez giving an embrace to Dem Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings at session's end.

Wilson's candidacy is not seen as catching fire in the early going and major land mines await her in the form of ardent opposition by her party's powerful right-wing. That could be all that Sanchez needs to deny her the nomination.

But Wilson supporters and others skeptical of a Sanchez candidacy insist she is a better general election candidate for 2012 than Sanchez. They site his lack of a college education and the aura of opportunism his candidacy would carry because he was only just elected Lt. Governor.

Heather is also not giving up on her right flank. She
will meet Sunday with the East Mountain Tea Party.

Sanchez, 48, has little to lose by getting in the contest, especially if national right-wing funding is in the offing. At this point the surprise will be if he doesn't toss his hat into the ring.

MUSCLE AGAINST MICHAEL?


Is this going to be the Republican candidate who tries to topple State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez in 2012? From a Valencia County politico:

The word is Republican leadership in Valencia County would like to see County Commission Chairman Georgia Otero-Kirkham who is completing her 8th year on the Commission and will be term limited take on Michael Sanchez for the Dist. 29 Senate seat in 2012.

Otero-Kirkham worked in the land title business for 30 years. Sanchez was first elected to the Senate in 1992. All 42 state senators face re-election in 2012 as well as all 70 state House members.


ROBBINS RISES

ABQ School Board member David Robbins didn't last long at ABQ City Hall when it was learned that elected officials can't work for the city. Mayor Berry had to let him go. Now one of our Alligators reports Robbins has had a soft landing:

David Robbins is now an Administrative Director at the NM Taxation and Revenue Department in Santa Fe....

UNM BEATS AGGIES

As the dust settles at the Roundhouse, we learn:


UNM’s main and north campus saw a total appropriation of $274.6 million, roughly 36 percent of the overall higher education budget. UNM received roughly a 3.1 percent decrease in state funds from last year and fared better than New Mexico State University, which received 3.9 percent in cuts.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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