Monday, April 04, 2011

R's Line Up For Heinrich Seat; Dems Not So Much, Plus: Our Comprehensive Coverage & Analysis Of The Race For Senate, And: Latest From Javier Vs. Sam 

Barela, Lewis & Arnold-Jones
Now that Martin Heinrich has made it official and decided to give up his ABQ US House seat to run for the US Senate, Republicans are salivating over their prospects of taking his seat back in 2012.

They have some good reasons.

Running against an incumbent is almost always more difficult, the Dems do not have an obvious strong contender to succeed Heinrich and the GOP already has three possible first-tier candidates who political pros see as plausible winners.

Sunday afternoon ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis made his official entry into what could be a spirited battle for the GOP nomination for the ABQ House seat. But even as he took to podium at the Hotel ABQ, speculation was flying that Jon Barela, the 2010 GOP ABQ congressional nominee who came close to beating Heinrich, is taking a very serious look at giving it a second try. Adding fuel to the fire was confirmation that Barela, appointed by Governor Martinez as Secretary of Economic Development, would be attending a high-profile Rio Rancho tea party event tonight. Also looking at the race is moderate Republican Janice Arnold-Jones. If two conservatives--Barela and Lewis--went after each other her supporters feel she would have a shot at the nomination.

On the Dem side, confusion reigns. Freshman ABQ Dem State Senator Eric Griego and three-term ABQ State Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas have both announced "exploratory" committees for the House run. Both were immediately labeled by Republican analysts as too liberal to keep the seat in the Dem column--a fear shared by some Dem strategists. A centrist Dem or a liberal Dem who can disguise himself as Heinrich did in 2008 is urgently needed. Could either Griego or Maestas do that or would they even care to? Maybe, but in making his announcement Griego stuck to his left-wing guns:

We need a candidate who will unapologetically stand up for working families and take on those who would put large corporate interests ahead of our children, our environment and our local businesses.

Still, if Griego can turn left-wing politics into populism, it could get interesting.

The conundrum, as is often the case, is getting a candidate who appeals to the party's liberal nominating wing without having them so far out there that they can't take the general election.

Numerous other possible Dem candidates--none of them household names--continue to weigh the race--but the early muscle coming from the R's shows that keeping the Heinrich seat in the Dem column is going to be a major challenge for the state's majority party no matter who they make their nominee.


Heinrich's expected entry into the Dem race for the US Senate nomination was as laid-back as Senator Jeff Bingaman, the guy who is retiring and who Heinrich hopes to replace. Heinrich met reporters Saturday afternoon outside the National Hispanic Cultural Center where locals were celebrating The César Chávez Day March and Festival. Heinrich is most vulnerable to a primary challenge from a Hispanic Dem and will need solid Hispanic support if he is to take the seat in a general election so the setting was a natural.

The congressman, a Missouri native who moved to NM in the 90's, quieted some of the misgivings about him among Hispanics by opening up a South Valley office last year. He is also an ardent supporter of President Obama who retains popularity among Dem Hispanics.

Before his brief meeting with the press, Heinrich, 39, released official word of his run on his Facebook page and campaign website where he released a a 90 second video that shows the jeans-clad congressman at home with his family preparing dinner and talking about the race. But several viewers pointed out that Heinrich, while saying he can empathize with the plight of the working man, was cooking steak for dinner. From the email:

If he was trying to convey a sense of the economic struggle so many individuals and families are facing this ad isn't the vehicle. Steak for dinner? The menu for this ad should have been meatloaf or spaghetti...The perception problem is that all the candidates (at least in the Senate race) want voters to believe they feel the average person's economic pain and suffering, but it doesn't appear they're actually suffering financially the way their constituents are.

Well, it turns out it wasn't the kind of steak several readers thought. We are informed by a Heinrich friend it was elk steak for fajitas:

The fajitas were made with elk meat Martin hunted and butchered with his own hands. His wife told me that he stayed up one evening until midnight butchering the elk before jumping on a plane back to DC for votes. Hunting the state's healthy elk and deer herds provides high-quality meat and recreation for thousands of working New Mexicans....

Well, that's not stuff you can put in a 90 second video. Maybe it's best to stick with hamburger when talking about economic hard times

To other critics the video seemed a bit under produced and perhaps rushed. The overall impression Heinrich made was one of competence, but lacking zest or a personality larger than that of your next door neighbor. That's fine for a Senator Bingaman and if no primary opposition materializes it will work for Heinrich, but it will be a much different story when he faces the eventual GOP nominee.


Heather Wilson's entry into the GOP Senate race last month also drew critical reviews. One Alligator opined:

Heather had about 40 people in the audience at her announcement. 90% of the people on the stage with her were eligible for the Early Bird Special at Shoney's.

On the other hand, Wilson had excellent pre-publicity for her announcement, milking it for several news cycles.


Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez is expected to soon get in the GOP Senate race. Maybe he can give the contest that it has so far lacked on both sides. Chances may be pretty good for that. Southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce, who is not expected to run for the Senate, but is expected to support Sanchez, went to work right away on defining Heinrich as too "extreme" for the state:

Martin Heinrich's extreme agenda would cripple America and throw tens of thousands of New Mexicans out of work. Heinrich's support for the liberal, out of control spending spree in Washington as well as his support for the job killing Cap and Trade legislation are clear indicators that he does not put New Mexican families first. (They) deserve a Senator who will....fight to create jobs and get our economy moving. In Heinrich, they will only get someone fighting for special interests and the extreme agendas of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

And don't think that punch didn't hurt Martin with conservative Dems in Hobbs and Roswell. He is going to need millions in media to overcome what will be a relentless onslaught from the hard right as exemplified by accomplished tacticians such as Pearce and the national conservatives soon expected to rally around the John Sanchez flag.

Wilson, presuming it will be Heinrich she will face if she wins the GOP nod, piled on:

So, let's get this straight. Martin Heinrich goes to Washington in 2009, spends 2 years supporting the agenda that is taking our country in the wrong direction, and now he wants us to promote him?

Sanchez is emerging as a dangerous opponent for Wilson. David Montoya, the outgoing chairman of the Sandoval County Democratic Party has some thoughts on why:

If the Republicans stick to their successful play book you will probably see a strong push to ally the conservative values of the tea party along with Hispanic votes. This strategy worked in the Senate race in Florida, and governor's races in Nevada and here in New Mexico. I don't see them straying from this formula. That's bad news for Heather who is neither conservative nor appeals to northern NM Hispanics. It's good news for Lt. Gov Sanchez, if he can get out of the primary.

Sanchez's pre-publicity is solid but he has a high competence bar to jump. If he trips early, the Wilson fatigue in the GOP could fade.


Heinrich's campaign tried to make his announcement appear novel by placing it on social media like Facebook and his website, but in reality it was decidedly old school media that he relied on to get his message out.

First, the campaign leaked the impending announcement to the ABQ Journal Thursday night which published it in Friday's editions. Late Friday they leaked the news to the AP which then went with a story of the impending announcement. Then Heinrich holds his formal announcement on Saturday--a lousy day for TV news coverage---but a good day to get the front page of the Sunday Journal which he did.

The leak to the paper which has been much more conservative in recent years was seen as part of a peace making campaign by the candidate to at least get them to move to a neutral corner.

"New" media was given a ceremonial nod by Heinrich, but in reality the action was all old school.

(Reporter Peter St. Cyr posted Heinrich's six minute news conference on YouTube as well as the Dan Lewis announcement.)


Heinrich's average performance over the weekend is not as relevant as it would be if he had a major primary challenger, but there is none on the horizon who is seen as being able to raise the $2 million or so it would take to derail him. That includes State Auditor Hector Balderas who has made noise about running, but is now going to fall quickly behind as the Heinrich vacuum cleaner starts scooping up the cash. That could keep Balderas and other putative challengers sidelined.

Northern Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is capable of mounting a well-financed challenge as could a wealthy private businessman with political ambitions. But neither of those scenarios is yet coming into view. For now, Heinrich is free to take to the open road in these early campaign months with little outside pressure.


So if State Sen. Eric Griego does indeed opt to give up his seat after only one term to run for the ABQ congressional seat, who will line up for that senate seat in the 2012 election? We asked one of our South Valley Alligators for some names:

Based on the 2010 census data that seat could actually be absorbed in the legislative redistricting that will take place this fall. State Senators Lopez and Ortiz both need the population in their districts. Having said that the front runners for the Griego seat right now are:

Dely Alcantara--Griego's choice; Republican Bill Paiz, former Senator James Taylor who Griego beat in 2008 and Jacob Candelaria, grandson of Jack Candelaria, heir to Aragon family supporters who have traditionally played a role in Valley politics.

That's just a start, of course. If Griego leaps, the Dem race to replace him could look like a crowded elevator.


There is one election that is not in far off 2012. It's the race for state Dem Party chair on April 30. Combatants Javier Gonzales, the incumbent, and attorney Sam Bregman continue their search for support among the fewer than 500 Dem central committee members who will make the selection. Javier comes with a volley against Governor Martinez as he works to fire up his troops:

Susana Martínez has proven to be a very good study practitioner of the politics of division. Put divisive and wedge issues on the front of the debate, cut government funding to education, health care and workforce training all in the name of keeping taxes low for the wealthiest 1 percent. Attack environmental regulations in the name of job creation. Govern by creating fear among those you lead.

Bregman has fired numerous rounds at Gonzales, faulting him for the Dems poor performance in 2010 and saying they can expect more of the same if he is re-elected party leader. But Sam has his own baggage--his legal clients--as seen in this email:

Did you see this article Friday? For a guy who is running for Democratic Party Chairman, every once in a while it's okay to say no to taking a case. I can the see radio ads and mailers next year: "Democratic Party Chairman represents child molester." Geez.

From the article:

A Tijeras man accused of raping an 8-year old boy and filming it while the child tried to get away is one step closer to freedom. (ABQ) Judge Denise Barela Shepherd ruled that Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies had gone too far in searching the Tijeras home of Joseph Martinez in April 2009. Because the search was illegal, the evidence seized by deputies cannot be used at trial, the judge ruled, seriously undermining the state's ability to continue prosecuting the case against the 52-year-old Martinez....

"This is a great victory for the Constitution and specifically for the Fourth Amendment," Martinez attorney Sam Bregman said. "Again, it reflects the fact that the Constitution does not bend based on the seriousness of the allegations."

Gonzales has been given front runner status by party insiders, but the fact that his supporters are hitting back hard at Bregman shows that the flamboyant trial lawyer is making an impact.

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