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Monday, May 02, 2011

Joy To The World! Obama Gets Osama, Plus: ABQ House Race Keeps Dem Nerves Frayed: Will Park Put It In Gear? Griego Entry Gets Them Talking 

Finally, good news. No, great news! Your heart could not help but be gladdened by the spontaneous demonstrations of joy at the White House and Ground Zero in NYC in response to the news that Osama bin Laden, the man whose terror so traumatized the great American nation, had finally been brought to justice--killed by our forces in Pakistan.

And the youth of the demonstrators! A generation that came of age during September 11, economic recession and polarized politics reminded us as they danced in the streets of the great, glory days of America and made us feel that, yes, we can recapture it all.

Suddenly, the downer economy, the deficit, Social Security, Medicare, jobs---all of it--seemed so much more solvable. Truly, much of the weight was lifted from the mighty shoulders of this nation when the President delivered the news in the most welcome political speech in memory.

This jolt of joy will not last, but we revel in it while it does.

The cliche comes true: Today all of us--Republicans, Democrats and Independents--are all Americans and we all carry the hope, optimism and can-do spirit that define the exceptional American character.

BIN LADEN POLITICS

The political consequences are obvious--the President gets a big popularity bump. Dems running for Congress will also benefit--at least for a while. But the question, as always, is for how long? When the elation wears off, the economy will reassert itself as the dominant issue, but this will still be a long-term benefit to the national security credentials of the Dems, sometimes an Achilles Heel for them.

Rep. Martin Heinrich's recent call for getting American forces home from Afghanistan seems especially timely now that the chief villain behind that war is dead. For many Americans, the death of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of Mission Accomplished. The ABQ congressman said last night:

The death and capture of bin Laden is a tremendous victory for the United States, our intelligence community and for every serviceman and woman who has been fighting al qaeda on the front lines since September 11, 2001. Let this be a warning to anyone who would consider harming Americans at home or abroad.

WHO FOR CONGRESS?
Griego, Park & Chavez
There was buzz at this weekend's big meeting of state Dems when the potential candidates for the ABQ US House seat were trotted out for inspection. They included State Rep. Al Park whose potential candidacy has not made much waves and was thought by some to be completely dormant, but now becomes much more intriguing. Dems have their worry beads out over the race, fearing they have not put on the field a contender who can beat the R's.

As expected, State Senator Eric Griego, who earlier announced an exploratory committee, made official his bid for the seat being vacated by Martin Heinrich. Rep. Heinrich is leaving the House to run for the US Senate seat held by Jeff Bingaman who will retire next year. Park and former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez--who also spoke--did not throw their hats into the proverbial ring, but told the state central committee delegates they remain undecided about a run.

Griego's candidacy has been received with open arms by party purists who want an unabashed liberal to carry the party's banner on to the 2012 battlefield. But Griego's aggressive style--not necessarily all his positions--make other Dems nervous about his ability to win the ABQ seat. And, as usual, there is an ethnic angle. No Hispanic Dem has won the seat in its nearly 45 year history.

The district has also had a reputation as "moderate." Congressman Heinrich quickly secured a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, balancing out his liberal reputation. The district's political character could change with the legislative redistricting this fall, but not much.

PARK'S PLACE


Park, now 41, was elected to the state House from a diverse ABQ Heights area in 2000 when he was just 30. He was pinpointed then as a rising star, but his career slowed as he tangled with House Speaker Ben Lujan. Still, his decade of legislative experience, his years as a practicing attorney and his ability to tilt moderate or conservative on occasion make him a top congressional prospect in the eyes of top Dems here and at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in DC. In addition, Park was an early and ardent supporter of President Obama.

As for ethnicity, Park's background is not all Anglo. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone to a mother of Venezuelan descent. His father is a corporate attorney. Park is not the only high profile figure in his family. He is married to Bernalillo native and attorney Jessica Perez, the 2011 president of the NM Bar Association. She in turn is the daughter of former District Court Judge George Perez who was among the Dems who sought the northern US House seat in 1982 when it was first created. He lost the nomination to Bill Richardson.

Park has a pre-school daughter. Family considerations have played a a role in his hesitancy to make the dive into the ABQ race. He describes his statuss this weekend as "undecided."

State Senator Tim Keller, another recruiting target of the Dems, recently rejected a race, citing his impending marriage as one reason. With Keller out, the recruitment of Park has become more intense.

One vote that Park took this past legislative session is sure to cause a stir if he does get in. He was among eight House Dems who voted to rescind driver's licenses for illegal immigrants--a tinderbox issue that Governor Martinez lost when the state Senate shot her down. It is that kind of vote that pragmatic Dems feel give Park more entree into the conservative Dems and R's who populate the NE Heights of ABQ. Other Dems, of course, look at Park more cynically.

For a number of years Park has had a hefty cash balance in his state campaign account. At the end of 2010, it was at $263,000. He previously weighed a bid for attorney general and is currently weighing a 2012 candidacy for the ABQ area Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seat as well as the congressional seat. Election law says he can't use that state campaign money directly on a federal race. The PRC job pays $90,000 a year. Park will be eligible for a legislative pension of $10,000 per year once he leaves the Roundhouse.

Park is still relatively young, but if he wants a congressional career this could be his last and best chance. Like the top Dems analyzing the race, Park also has plenty to get nervous about.

GRADING GRIEGO


Griego, 45, made his first splash with a four minute announcement video as well as that speech to Dem central committee delegates who later re-elected Javier Gonzales over Sam Bregman in a very tight race for state party chairman.

Griego went right for the jugular, attacking "conservative Republicans" for threatening Social Security and Medicare. He did so not in a caustic or sarcastic way that his critics say has become his detrimental hallmark, but conversationally and with earnestness.

His economic development message centered on developing alternate energy industries. No mention of the federal military-industrial complex which is seen with disdain by a number of progressives. He said:

I'm not the kinder softer version of a Democrat. I'm not a corporate Democrat.

The freshman lawmaker has matured considerably since he was first elected to the ABQ City Council in 2001. He will be giving up the ABQ Valley Senate seat he was elected to in 2008 to make this run, but as the progressive favorite in the race the timing is near perfect for him.

As for those who assert he is too far left, Griego points out that Martin Heinrich was also known as the most liberal candidate when he first sought the House seat in 2008 and went on to win.

But Griego recently tangled with conservatives when he erupted on the state Senate floor and said that ABQ conservative talk radio station KKOB-AM ought to be known as "KKKOB," an unveiled reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Griego appeared on the station to try to explain his remarks and apologized to host Bob Clark who said he was personally offended. That's not the kind of hot water you would see Heinrich getting in.

Griego, now executive director of NM Voices for Children, has to be worried about his fund-raising. He has never been obsessed with it and that showed when he ran against Marty Chavez for Mayor in 2005. Many of his voters don't need to be prodded with paid media--they are true believers--but if heavyweight contenders like Park or Chavez get in, that calculation will change.

Meanwhile, as the only announced candidate who is all in, Griego has time to wear down resistance to a candidacy that seems to evoke equal shares of passion and scepticism.

MAYOR MARTY


Does political veteran Marty Chavez have one more race in him? The firm answer is "maybe." The former three term ABQ Mayor has a much more complicated scenario on his hands then in the days when the political world was his oyster. Former associates of Chavez say he is much more serious about a US House run then they first thought. But then there are those complications.

Does he give up what is thought to be a very well-paying job in D.C. for what for him would be a junior political position? After all, this is a legendary former mayor and the 1998 Dem Governor nominee. What attraction can serving as a freshman in the US House (and in the Dem minority)--have for him, aside from the personal benefit of resurrecting a once high-flying career?

More practically, what about his high negatives? The ability to raise money? And most threatening: what if Park joins Griego in the race, presenting the not unlikely event that Marty and Eric could split much of the Hispanic vote and leave Park with the win? Chavez can argue that his is a more holistic candidacy than that, but history is not partial to that theory.

Marty has always been a strong general election performer, but it is the nominating wing of the party (both Hispanic and Anglos) that has always given the moderate/conservative Chavez headaches. Chavez was chased out of the 2008 Dem US Senate primary in which he challenged Tom Udall. He got in that race only after polling showed he could not beat Diane Denish for the 2010 Guv nomination so he switched to the Senate run. In 2009, he lost a bid for a fourth mayoral term when progressive Dems rallied for Richard Romero. Republican Richard Berry took the prize.

In 2012, Marty's headaches would not go away, not with liberal Griego unloading on his old foe to the delight of the party's base. At 59, Chavez might have one more good race in him. But it is questionable if this the one.

SIDELINE ACTION

Watching all of this from the sidelines is attorney and Dem Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham. She and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron lost the '08 nomination to Heinrich. She did not make a speech to the delegates over the weekend, moving her down a notch on the list of possibles. But friends say she is still mulling it over.

Friends of Diane Denish say she is enjoying being mentioned as a possible US House candidate, but firmly report it is about as likely as Susana Martinez appointing her to the cabinet.

MESSAGING THE CHAIRMAN

Gonzales
That incumbent NM Dem Chairman Javier Gonzales, 44, only beat attorney Sam Bregman by 11 votes at Saturday's central committee meeting obviously speaks to the party's disappointing performance in the 2019 cycle--the loss of the Guv's chair and eight state House seat--among other setbacks. But Bregman's insistence on a more aggressive posture toward Governor Martinez and on party-building throughout the state also resonated.

In the tradition of the north, Gonzales of Santa Fe is not a show boater, and delivering a message all these Dems can agree on can be like herding cats. But Bregman tapped into a deep fear that Dems could actually lost outright control of the state House in 2012--something that hasn't happened in decades. The party also holds concerns over retaining the Bingaman Senate seat and the ABQ House seat.

These are the post-Bill Richardson years for the Dems and the vacuum his departure has created was on display this weekend. Gonzales can't be Big Bill, but the close vote shows he is being asked to assume some of Bill's swagger and Sam's certitude.

WATCHING THE R'S


What's new in R world? Well, Steve Pearce is running around like a 29 year old, not the 63 he is. He is darn excited about the very conservative bent the US House has taken and is showing an energetic side that was hibernating during his previous stint as the southern NM congressman.

While Steve is a near lock for re-election in 2012, there are the first signs of life in Dem land. Sunland Park Mayor Martin Resendiz says next week he will get in the race to oust Pearce. He may end up being the only major Dem candidate in the Republican safe district.

As for Pearce running for the GOP nod for US Senate, it is de rigueur for the journalists to mention Pearce as a possible candidate because he has said he is considering such a run. But no one--and we mean no one--in the upper echelons of the NM GOP takes it seriously. They see Pearce, who was the 2008 GOP Senate nominee, as a place holder for Lt. Governor John Sanchez who has been inching toward a run against Pearce arch-rival Heather Wilson who is already announced.

Pearce is keeping the southern conservative base excited and away from Wilson. And he's also keeping the money away from her as he holds out the possibility of his own bid--money that could eventually find a home with the Light Guv.

As for the R side of the equation in the ABQ congressional contest, our Republican Alligators say all eyes are still on Jon Barela. Will the current economic development secretary and 2010 GOP nominee, give it a second try? Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis, the only announced candidate, sure hopes not. But our in-the-know R's say Barela is watching to see how Lewis does with his fund-raising. If he falters, look for Barela to come back for a second run. Former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones has formed an exploratory committee. Barela will also keep an eye on her money totals.


SUSANA MEDIA BEAT

That Sunday front-pager in the newspaper didn't do Governor Martinez any favors. Maybe a sign that the honeymoon is fading? Why she opted to do an interview on whether she was too political in the recent legislative session at "her top political consultant's office in ABQ" is odd (For some reason, the paper did not identify that consultant as the controversial Jay McCleskey). Was that an in-the-face message of support for his tactics which drew so much Dem criticism?

And that unsmiling photo they ran of her was also a come down from the beaming smilers she is usually awarded. Is it a signal that the mainstream media is buying into the case (and burned up about it) that the administration is being guided more by an interest in the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nomination and not by New Mexico considerations? Or is it an acknowledgment that Susana's political arm is too often trumping her policy arm?

Yes.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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