Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Framing The 2012 Republican Race For The US Senate: The Troubles Of Wilson And Sanchez; We Peel The Onion, Plus: New Mexico's Next 100 Years 

Wilson Vs. Sanchez
For her entire political career former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson has sported the label "moderate" but in today's Republican Party that can be deadly. So as Heather battles Lt. Governor John Sanchez for the GOP US Senate nomination, she has dropped the "M word" and constantly describes herself as a conservative. The switch is not going unnoticed among the wall-leaners:

Liberal Use of Conservative Award: This conservative award goes to the conservative Heather Wilson, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate — as a conservative. It seems that every one of her conservative news releases uses the word "conservative" about a dozen times. And that's a conservative estimate.

Not only is it the prospect of Sanchez securing support on her right that has Heather running scared from her moderate past, she remembers all too well the pasting she took from Rep. Steve Pearce when she sought the 2008 Senate nomination.

And just where is the GOP contest for Senate as we rapidly approach the key mid-March pre-primary convention?

Well, Sanchez is quietly working the rural areas--and we mean quietly. His low-key approach has supporters fretting that Heather, who has raised a million bucks and is waxing him in the polls (she's over 50% against him), is walking away with the nomination in the early going. Gadfly contenders Greg Sowards and Bill English are also on the trail touting conservative credentials but so far this is a Wilson-Sanchez contest.

Over the decades we've seen "waterfall" events in state politics. That's where a candidate like Sanchez launches an attack against a foe and they begin a rapid collapse. That is now Sanchez's hope. That Wilson has a glass jaw--that conservative Republicans will start bolting from her en masse as soon as she is convincingly labeled a "moderate."

This will take excellent timing and lots of TV money. Sanchez has shown in the past that he is capable of both, but this race has plodded along for months with little movement away from Wilson. Is it too late? Is the race over? No. But by being so far behind in the early going, Sanchez will have little margin of error to start a waterfall towards him. If he doesn't attack, he will stay stuck. And if he does attack, the hits will have to be spot on. Otherwise, he drowns.

As for Wilson, she does not have the strength that her mentor--former Senator Pete Domenici-- had to whip the party in line and make it take a moderate tack. She is being forced to the right to secure the party's nomination, but she is crafty and giving herself wiggle room to move back to the center for a general election contest. But her electability remains a major concern, even as some Republicans are in denial. They've trotted out a platoon of media and party spinners sympathetic to Heather to beat back the early numbers, but the Alligators remain unconvinced. They smell blood in the water.


That Democratic poll showing Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich beating Wilson by seven points is ominous. Even if the poll is off and his lead is much less or the race is a dead-heat as Wilson says it is, she appears to have a cap on her support somewhere around 45 to 48 percent. Her negatives are high from the many pitched battles she waged to retain her ABQ congressional seat. She is also saddled with baggage from the Bush years, a presidency she supported, but is now held in disrepute. And she is an old face during a time when the electorate is restless with politics as usual.

With her name ID nearly universal, Wilson is not going to have much luck changing perceptions about herself. If she is the nominee, her only path to victory will be a relentless attack on the Dem nominee. That's why there is still murmuring over Sanchez being a viable alternative--a candidate who does not carry the heavy sack of negatives Wilson does, is a native Hispanic New Mexican who can appeal to Independents and Dems and who has a strong TV presence. But Sanchez's semi-slumber has kept these arguments confined to the political parlors and not bouncing around yet among rank and file Republicans.

History shows that whoever wins the Senate seat has a good chance of holding it for decades. The elite in the political parties may want to avoid spirited nomination battles, but for New Mexicans the more the mettle of the next Senator is tested, the better. It may sound like a cliche but in the decades ahead this federally dependent state is going to need a fighter. Nomination contests featuring some body blows is as good a way as any to determine who can really go the distance for us in the halls of the US Capitol.


Our state is 100 years old this Friday. What of the next 100?

New Mexico's Hispanic population over the next 100 years will grow to be the majority ethnic group, regardless of federal immigration policy, a local researcher and pollster predicts. At the same time, the number of senior citizens in the state who depend on government services will increase, as budgets for programs to help them will shrink.

The major challenge for New Mexico as it sets off on its second century of statehood is to better educate its populace, For generations, Hispanic and Native American students have lagged behind. Changing the culture of low expectations is key. A measure to dedicate a portion of the state's Permanent Fund to reach the very youngest--from birth to age five--will be considered in the upcoming legislative session. It deserves bipartisan consideration.


The century of statehood ahead, like the one just past, is going to be laden with scientific advances and the New Mexico Spaceport is poised to help lead the way. But what exactly will those sub-orbital space travelers launched from the Spaceport get for their $200,000 tickets? The wrap on that is here.

So far, 500 wannabe space travelers have plunked down the $200k. Virgin Galactic isn't saying exactly when launches will occur. There is a long test period ahead so don't expect anything this year.

The Spaceport is expected to provide an ongoing economic boost to southern New Mexico, but the economy there remains flat. Here is the latest on how things shape up in El Paso, just a short trip from Las Cruces:

...Economic output hardly grew last year compared to a strong 2010, and the economy is projected to continue to be sluggish in 2012, slightly slower than projections for the national economy, according to a UTEP forecast released last week.


The district judge handling redistricting chores has come with his decision on the state House boundaries for the next ten years:

A state district judge has approved a plan for drawing new boundaries of state House of Representative districts that will pair two Republican incumbents in southeastern Mexico and two Democrats in the north-central part of the state.

The plan approved was the one submitted by the Guv. Some Dems were grumbling over that. What to watch for now is whether minority groups appeal the case to a higher court.


This was supposed to be the year when Republicans were able to peel off large chunks of support from President Obama, but it isn't working out that way--at least not yet:

Polling has consistently shown Latinos falling out of love with Obama, but so far, the GOP just hasn’t made itself into a viable alternative. And for now, it appears Obama could match his 2008 advantage among Latinos, which went a long way toward securing his victory among this growing demographic.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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