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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Senate Chase: The Early Outlook And The Current Vibe; A Passion Gap? Plus: Gary Johnson's Goodbye 

Heinrich, Bingaman & Wilson
Jeff Bingaman is getting out just in time. The Senate veteran (30 years when he finishes) said in February he won't seek re-election next year. Ever since, the headlines have been filled with reports of possible threats to the state's massive Federal funding. That headache will be inherited by his successor. And who will that be?

The National Journal has this take on the early action in the race for New Mexico's open US Senate seat:


Both Democrats and Republicans face competitive Anglo-versus-Hispanic primaries here, but the likeliest match up would pit Rep. Martin Heinrich against ex-Rep. Heather Wilson. Both represented the same Albuquerque-area district, which is likely to be the race's biggest battleground.

Wilson has a centrist record, though she's trying to downplay it in the GOP primary, and she would give Republicans a shot to compete. But New Mexico has trended very blue in recent years, making Heinrich the slight favorite.


On the campaign trail, a fairly good but still mixed reaction to Heinrich at a Silver City stop, far from his home turf of ABQ.

THE CURRENT VIBE

None of the Senate candidates has yet to ignite much passion. None has a track record that shouts, "I belong in the US Senate." And none are departing from traditional campaign messaging, even as the public gives the current Congress a pathetic 9 percent approval rating. The attitude in the state about these candidates seems to be "it has to be someone." Of course, once one of them is actually elected their status will soar and perceptions may change.

But will any of the candidates end up inspiring the electorate by laying out bold ideas? Probably not. A statewide race in New Mexico is ultimately a race for the middle ground. The drift of the Republican Party to the far right has them standing out like a sore thumb to the large and influential swath of independent voters. The Democrats are muddled, but they don't get under the skin of the independents as much.


The R's will go heavy negative on the Dem nominee to reshape that turf, but unless that nominee--Heinrich or Balderas--give them a defining mistake--the state will likely stay "lean Dem" right up until Election Day.

The Senate candidates are not igniting passion not only because it is early, but because they aren't saying much of anything. Heinrich and Wilson, the front-runners for their parties respective nominations, seem to be wandering.

Heinrich talks about creating manufacturing jobs without digging deeper into the economic malaise and Wilson offers similar palliatives (like cutting taxes) to her party's radical right as she trembles over its nominating power.


The economic divide, stifled economic opportunity and widespread unemployment are what matters to voters. Will the Senate candidates highlight issues like this:

The rate at which the 400 U.S. taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income actually paid federal income taxes --their so-called effective tax rate --fell to about 18 percent in 2008 from almost 30 percent in 1995, IRS data show. That's the tip of the iceberg, since much of their wealth never converts into income on a tax return...

The imbalance at the top of the economic pyramid that jeopardizes the middle classes, jobs for workers who don't have four year college degrees, the housing crisis, health care that doesn't mean you go bankrupt to get it and the state's massive federal funding that is increasingly endangered. Those are the issues that really matter. Whether we get an intelligent discussion of them in the forthcoming Senate campaign is "to be determined."

THE CASH CHASE

That the campaign finance system is broken is one of those worst kept secrets. Running for Senate is like looking for a loan with bad credit--you keep asking everyone you know for cash. It is time consuming, riddled with potential conflicts and makes both parties essentially obligated to the same interests that have no interest in addressing most of the aforementioned issues. And as far as campaign finance reform that would free the candidates to speak their minds, it's like waiting for Godot. No wonder everyone is fed up with Congress.

GARY'S GOODBYE


It's just about all over for Gary Johnson. The former NM Governor's presidential bid was doomed when he was shut out of the media debates and now he has begun to write his own political obituary

He described himself as underexposed and mistreated, and said he probably cannot continue in the race much longer.

"There are five debates prior to the New Hampshire primary (on Jan. 10). If I'm shut out of all five, I don't see that I stand a chance in New Hampshire," Johnson said...

Johnson gets kudos for breaking with the radical right of the GOP on several key issues, but it cost him any shot at becoming a serious contender. The Republcian Party that made room for Gary Johnson in the 1990's is long gone.

BARELA UPDATE

KOAT-TV picked up on the news we first broke here this week that state economic development chief and possible ABQ GOP congressional candidate Jon Barela is having some economic troubles of his own. A court has ordered Barela and a small group of investors to pony up $3.5 million to pay off a real estate loan on property at Tramway and Montgomery. Barela says he doesn't yet see the development as a "failed project." The station reported that the Governor's office is still "largely behind" the cabinet secretary. What "largely" means is left to the imagination of the viewer.

NO NATIVES?

We haven't researched this yet, but we'll buy an enchilada lunch for the first two readers who can correctly answer this question from reader Jacob "Jackie" Block:

If either Heinrich or Wilson wins the Senate race that means that we will not have a native born New Mexican in the U.S. Senate. Has this happened before and if so when?

Okay, hit those history books and let us know.


Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico.


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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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