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Monday, March 19, 2012

R's Target Senate Leader Sanchez, But Are They Using A Rubber Bullet? Plus: Obama To NM, And: Behind The Jobs Numbers 

Sen. Sanchez
Welcome back. If you didn't catch our special weekend coverage of the Saturday GOP preprimary convention just scroll down for our report. The key points? Will GOP Senate candidate Greg Sowards spend much of the $600,000 he has banked now that Heather Wilson cleaned his clock at the convention?

Janice Arnold-Jones now takes the front-runner position away from Dan Lewis after scoring a big convention win, but she has to raise money to match the convention performance if she is going to keep it. Now it's on to a new week and the fresh action....

Valencia County GOP State Rep. David Chavez is turning out to be one of the more surreal characters of  La Politica. First, he says he will not seek a second term in the House because serving in Santa Fe is cramping his ability to make money in his private law practice. Then he immediately turns around and announces that he is going to take on Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. What? You won't lose money in your biz when your a Senator, David? Seems he has some 'splanin to do to those House constituents he is abandoning. He told them only this month:

I have to dedicate myself to my practice and my clients. I am extraordinarily busy and have obligations to my clients.

What happened here, according to the top sources in state politics, is that Susana PAC, led by Guv chief political adviser Jay McCleskey, has been urgently trying to field an opponent against Sanchez who Martinez sees as enemy #1 in thwarting her legislative agenda. But they couldn't find anyone. With the March 20 deadline rapidly approaching, Jay seized upon Chavez's decision to abandon his House seat and persuaded him to make the run against Sanchez (Chavez previously ran and lost against Sanchez back in 2000).

Chavez will have a very tough time taking Sanchez out because of the way he is leaving his House seat and because of his own political baggage--both public and personal. But the point doesn't seem to be to take the seat, but to make sure that Susana PAC and other interested Sanchez foes can launch vigorous attacks against Sanchez and make him spend time and money defending himself.  On the other hand, the more motivated you get Leader Sanchez the harder he will work to get supporters to the polls--supporters who will also vote for President Obama, and the Democratic nominee for US Senate. That's not an unimportant point as Valencia County is a key swing county. But satisfying Susana's longing for payback seems paramount--even if the end result is only emotional  satisfaction--not any impact on how the state is actually led.

OBAMA TO NM


President Obama wings into New Mexico Wednesday, but he won't be visiting any of the state's three metro areas--ABQ, Santa Fe or Las Cruces. Instead he will set down in Carlsbad  in SE NM for what locals say is the first ever presidential visit there. He will visit oil and gas fields located on federal lands near Carlsbad to highlight his "all of the above" energy policy. But the visit also marks Obama's entry into the 2012 presidential fray here.

In 2008 Obama did not carry Eddy County where Carlsbad is located. He lost to McCain who captured 62% of the vote there. He will likely lose it again, despite it having registration numbers that favor the Dems. But those are mostly "Little Texas" Dems who routinely vote R. Still, if Obama can maintain his '08 pace in the region and carry the state's metros as he did four years ago, he will be in good shape for his re-elect here.

New Mexico can still be called a "swing" state, but it just doesn't look as "swingy." Obama carried Bernalillo County (basically Albuquerque) in 2008 by a previously unimaginable 59,000 votes. Say that victory margin is trimmed by half. That would still give him a 30,000 vote cushion as the R's try to make up the margin in the south and the traditionally Democratic north.

This is Obama's first visit to the state since September 2010 when he campaigned for unsuccessful Dem Guv candidate Diane Denish. On a swing west earlier this year, he bypassed New Mexico.

There is a great deal of ambivalence over Obama, but he is blessed by an opposition that so far has proven itself too far to the right to present a serious threat to him here. However, likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has shown, that like Obama, he can perform in the cities. That's something for the R's to hang their hats on. But the President usually retains good popularity (it can wax and wane) with the growing ranks of Hispanic voters (Native Americans,  too) and getting them out to vote will cinch it for him.

With the cities looking solid, Obama's Carlsbad visit is a reminder that in order for him to lose the state's five electoral votes, the GOP must deliver blockbuster results in the south. Any chipping away by Obama in counties like Eddy poisons their well. That's not the official reason for Obama visiting Carlsbad Wednesday, but it does play into that particular narrative.

EVER HAPPEN?

Martha Mauritson, the managing editor of the Carlsbad Current-Argus, writes:

The official Carlsbad historian, a wonderful man named Jed Howard, says no sitting presidents before Obama have visited Carlsbad. The Democratic presidential candidate in 1896, 1900 and 1908--William Jennings Bryan--was here a couple of times, but that's about it.

Obama will be traveling to a section of our state that has been spared the worst of the lengthy recession. In fact, it has thrived. Energy rich Eddy County sports an unemployment rate of only 4 percent. That's basically full employment as the oil and gas industry prospers, along with the potash mines. There were recent layoffs at WIPP--the federally operated low level nuclear waste site--but there does not appear to be a long-term threat to its funding.

No president before Obama has visited Carlsbad, but that doesn't mean previous White House occupants were not aware of it. That's because of the world-renowned Carlsbad Caverns. President Coolidge, in 1923, signed a proclamation establishing Carlsbad Cave National Monument. In 1930, the Congress established Carlsbad Caverns National Park and in 1978 Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness was established with the signature of President Carter. The awe-inspiring caves are a must-see for visitors and state residents alike.

GOP RURAL PROBLEM

The Republican (and conservative) demographic problem in New Mexico is well illustrated by a glance at the population stats for Eddy County and the city of Carlsbad. In 2000, Eddy had a population of 51,000. By 2010, the census says that number had grown to only 53,800. For Carlsbad, the 2000 population was 25,625 and only slightly higher at 26,138 in 2010. Small town and rural voters are an ever shrinking part of the state population pie. Carlsbad is actually in pretty good shape compared to other towns around the east side. The area lost a state Senate seat in the recent legislative redistricting because of sinking population.

The irony here is that Eddy and surrounding counties provide a huge portion of state revenues from energy royalties that keep state government running.

WE'RE BLEEDING

We have continuing economic and business coverage around here that you won't get anywhere else. And that leads us to the catacombs of the NM Workforce Department and the latest on the state jobless rate. This official spin from a department newsletter is actually no spin at all, but the raw truth we've been reporting during this long economic malaise. The unemployment rate in the state continues to drop, not because of "job creators" adding jobs, but mostly because the state work force is shrinking. From the state's Labor Market Review:

New Mexico's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.0 percent in January 2012, unchanged from December but down from 7.7 percent a year earlier...The statewide unemployment rate for January 2012 was down a full percentage point from its recessionary peak, but much of the decline resulted from a shrinking labor force participation rate with many individuals previously classified as unemployed no longer counted as such. Labor force participation can decrease because of both cyclical (e.g., an increase in worker discouragement) and structural (e.g., an increase in worker retirement) factors.

This Great Recession has permanently sidelined thousands of New Mexicans. Many of them are simply drifting away.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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