Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sanchez Jumps In And Heather Hears The Splash; GOP Race For Senate Fully Joined As State's #2 Makes It Official; First TV Ad Goes Up For Long Battle 

The effort to keep John Sanchez out of the race for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate had all the power of pushing on a string. The somewhat tattered remains of a GOP establishment again tried to anoint former GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson as their chosen one, but Sanchez formally enters the race today, setting the stage for a highly competitive primary and one in which Wilson could find herself on the losing end if she loses sight of her "A" game.

Sanchez played to his strength in making the entry. He cut a 60 second TV spot showing him at his telegenic best. In it he describes his up-by-the-bootstraps beginnings, calls himself a "new voice" and takes an oblique dig at Wilson by saying we shouldn't return politicians to Washington "who got us into this mess in the first place."

Sanchez's campaign Web site is here.

Sanchez said it's not just a web ad. He will make a "significant buy" to put it on broadcast TV. That's clearly an "I came to play" message that has become his political signature. If the buy is as he says, Sanchez is rapidly going to close a lot of space between himself and Heather.

If politics is all about timing, could Sanchez's timing be any better? He is 48--the right age; he's fresh from a statewide win for lieutenant governor; he's an Hispanic candidate when promoting Hispanics is all the Republican rage; he's an Hispanic candidate when it was 1976 when NM had its last Hispanic Senator; Wilson, his chief rival, remains unpopular with the dominant conservative wing of the party and despite his past electoral successes and failures Sanchez still retains his anti-politician identity as a successful, independent businessman.

On top of that, if Sanchez loses the nod he will still keep his day job as lieutenant governor at least until 2014. It's hard to find a reason for Sanchez not to run. But Heather Wilson, as tenacious a political player as the state has seen, will certainly come up with a lengthy list.

Will there be negative campaigning? What do you think? Will there be luminarias on Christmas Eve?


In a phone conversation with the freshly-minted candidate, Sanchez returned to the themes he teased with before becoming a formal contender. He tells GOP voters "they now have a clear choice" and he "is the good conservative alternative" to Wilson with "the real, practical, hands-on experience that the country needs right now."

Hold on, John. Heather holds a Ph.D in international relations, is a five term former ABQ congresswoman and a national security expert to boot. Aren't you, a high school graduate, out of your depth?

"Some of the most sophisticated, well-educated people got America into the trouble we are now in. Why don't we send Senators to Washington with real-world experience and common-sense solutions?"

Sanchez, who built a small roofing business into a big one and made millions in the process, said "restoring fiscal sanity and making sure we get our financial house in order" is the prelude to creating jobs and boosting the economy.

While Sanchez highlights his business background as central to his candidacy, he says he also acquired the requisite depth to be a US Senator from his service as an official in the village of Los Ranchos, from a two year term in the Legislature and now as lieutenant governor. He was also the 2002 GOP governor nominee, losing to Democrat Bill Richardson.

When he was toying with the idea of running, Sanchez unloaded a fusillade against Wilson, dubbing her "a relic of the past" and not a true conservative. He said in our interview that "there will be plenty of time for the contrasts" and resisted unloading on her again. He's right about the time. The June 2012 primary is still over a year away.


We also threw out an old allegation against Sanchez--that his roofing company employed illegal immigrants. "My business has always complied to the fullest extent of the law," he retorted, and added that he has been in business for 30 years with a reputation for "success and honesty." He pointed to the Small Business of the Year Award that Right Way Roofing received from the ABQ Hispano Chamber of Commerce. Unsurpisingly, he said he fully supports Governor Martinez's continued push to repeal driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

As far as Martinez throwing her support behind him in a contested primary, Sanchez said he could not predict what she would do, but that if elected to the Senate he looked forward to working with her "side by side."

Susana's popularity among R's is off the charts. His association with her is going to help, but a formal endorsement of Heather or Sanchez by Susana is unlikely.

The relationship between the Guv and Light Guv is not known to be warm--to put it politely. She has given the state's #2 no responsibilities. But political pros do not see her trying to thwart him. Wilson headed Susana's transition team but insiders say her relationship with Heather also would not heat up a room. But Wilson was smart to head that transition and, like Sanchez, will benefit from any association with the state's leading R.


Sanchez won a four way GOP Guv primary in 2002. In 2000, he was labeled a political giant killer when he ousted powerful House Speaker Raymond Sanchez from his ABQ North Valley House seat. In 2010, he won a three way primary for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination.

You can see how dangerous this candidacy is to Wilson's continued political life. In addition, my polling Alligators say 70 percent of GOP primary voters are self-described conservatives. If Sanchez, like Pearce, becomes known as their candidate, Heather's headache becomes a migraine.


It's a strong one, as most of you know. Born and raised in ABQ, Sanchez is the youngest of eight children and raised by a single mother. His grandfather served in the Legislature. His wife Debra likes politics and the couple frequently use their expansive far ABQ NE Heights home for political fundraisers. The couple have two children. In his TV spot, he says he grew up "in poverty." That's not a word you often see referenced in a Republican candidate's background. It sets him apart and maybe down the road helps him with Dems?


The Sanchez candidacy signals with certainty that southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce will not go for the Senate nod again. He did so in 2008 and beat Wilson by toting up huge margins in the south. Insiders see him doing all he can for Sanchez without provoking too much controversy.

Sanchez may not be able to get totals in the south as impressive as Pearce's, but he has a hole card Pearce did not. Sanchez is a native of ABQ and will fight Wilson in the metro area where the fate of her candidacy rests.

Early polling and Wilson's high name ID have her in the driver's seat, but it is a slippery steering wheel she's gripping. A robocall poll taken in late April had her beating Sanchez among Republicans 59% to 17%. But that was before Sanchez even announced. Also, that survey showed that the number of GOP voters who would definitely cast a ballot for Wilson was in the mid-30's--far from the majority needed for the win.

Still, as our insiders have said before, they expect Wilson to maintain a steady lead throughout the year with Sanchez closing the gap as we head into 2012. That, of course, is contingent on no major mistakes by the Light Guv who is not as well-known as Heather and for whom a campaign gaffe would take more of a toll.


Sanchez has never been shy about dipping into his own bank account and he's not backing off now.

"I've never had a problem priming the pump and letting our donors know we have skin in the game," Sanchez declared. He said he will seed the campaign with his own money to get it off the ground.

Estimates on how much the GOP Senate race will cost range from $1.5 million to over $2 million, the amount Heather and Pearce each spent in their '08 duel. Wilson is an adroit fund-raiser, but the slow economy could pinch. Ditto for Sanchez.

Heather has raised a fast $300,000. Sanchez could easily match a good chunk of that with personal funds and his conversation with me indicated he is ready to do so.

Las Cruces day center owner Craig Sowards has also announced a GOP Senate bid and kicked it off by giving himself $150,000, but he will need much more to join Heather and John in the top tier.


Third party TV money looks especially favorable for Sanchez. Conservative groups like "Club for Growth" that cut campaign ads against Wilson last time around are sure to be back. They do not see her as a true blue conservative. Sanchez will benefit from the hard-right support, but he will leave himself wiggle room on key issues so he can try to move to the middle if he wins the nomination.

Wilson has not yet secured meaningful backing from the big players who supported Pearce last time around. In other words, she does not appear to have expanded her base in the party very much, despite a slew of endorsements from state senators, representatives and various party officials. She had many of those last time as well and still lost. She will need to raid the tea party ranks to stop Sanchez from consolidating that vote and taking the win. Her vote to bail out the banks in her final year as a congresswoman is sure to be used against her as will doubts about her right-to-life credentials. She broke with President Bush on stem cell research.


Here's the scoop on Sanchez's campaign consultants as recently reported by the WaPo:

RedRock Strategies formed: Two big-name Republican consulting firms are joining forces out West.

Ryan Erwin Associates and Casteel Erwin Associates have formed a new political consulting firm, RedRock Strategies. The two strategists joined forces last year to form Casteel Erwin Associates; now they’re combining their two firms into one.

Ryan Erwin is a former leader of the Nevada Republican Party and was a senior adviser on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Corbin Casteel is a Texas-based consultant and former finance director for the state GOP. He currently works for former state Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who is running for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-Texas) seat.

Sanchez will be one of the new firm's first major clients. Will that make them hungrier for the win?


Unlike 2008 when the R's fought vigorously among themselves for the right to succeed retiring Senator Pete Domenici, this time both parties have intramural battles. While Sanchez and Wilson square off, Rep. Martin Heinrich and State Auditor Hector Balderas are battling for the Dem nomination to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Bingaman.

Some politicos will worry that the spirited campaigns could damage their party's chances in the general election, but for New Mexico the competition is good news. With Senator Domenici gone and veteran Bingaman leaving, rarely have we been more vulnerable in Washington. Our next Senator--a 21st century Senator---must be a fighter not just on campaign billboards and TV spots but in the corridors of power where the money and power is divvied up.

On paper, Sanchez, Wilson, Heinrich and Balderas all have what it takes. But it will be the heat and pressure of the primary that will sort out the field and leave standing the two who have the most strength to protect this state's interests in Washington and position it for what looks to be a very challenging future.

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