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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sowards Sour On Heather: How Hard Will He Kick At Saturday Preprimary? Plus: How The GOP Far Right Is Shaping GOP Senate Race, And: Readers On Restaurant Row 

The dramatic shift to the right in the nominating wing of the New Mexican Republican Party is causing a migraine for GOP US Senate candidate Heather Wilson. Her allies are out managing expectations and predicting that it is very possible that Greg Sowards--her gadfly opponent for the nomination who mauls Heather for being too moderate--will manage to win 20% of the delegate support at Saturday's preprimary convention. If he does, he gets an official spot on the June 5 primary ballot and a boost in how his candidacy is viewed. Wilson is still positioned to win this race in a walk, but if Sowards decides to spend most of the $600,000 he has banked on attack ads, it could weaken her for the fall face-off with her Dem rival.

Sowards is working the 805 convention delegates hard. My insiders report he has sent them at least four mailings hammering Wilson and has also been on the phones seeking delegate backing. He needs about 160 delegates to get to the magic 20%. If he does, it will be conservative southern New Mexico where most of  the votes come from. It was there that Wilson had major trouble when she lost the GOP US Senate nomination to Rep. Steve Pearce in 2008.

Sowards is a Las Cruces day care center owner who made a previous run for the US House, largely banking his own campaign as he is this time around. He spent over $200,000 on that run, say insiders.

Even if he doesn't reach the 20% mark Saturday, Sowards says he will collect the extra petition signatures required to get a place on the ballot. So the issue isn't whether Sowards, 62, is going to be around. The question is how much of that 600 Grand is he going to spend attacking Wilson on TV. All of it? Or is the big bank account a bluff? Sowards had campaign turnover early and has not been writing big checks. My insiders who have checked the candidate asset statements filed with the US Senate clerk and not available on the Internet, say he appears to be worth a couple of million dollars. That's a surprise to some observers who point out that most of the $600,000 he has banked comes from his own cash reserves and apparently represent a high percentage of his overall net worth.

As for Wilson, she has released a poll showing her trouncing Sowards by over 70 points, has agreed to debate him and has also answered his attacks by faulting Sowards for accepting federal subsides for the chain of day care centers he owns and upon which his fortune is based. Why? Because bizarre things can happen in the GOP. Radical R's have managed to snag party nominations in major races in recent cycles, perhaps most notably Sharron Angle and the Nevada experience. Sowards may not have that kind of spark, but the fear that his candidacy could spontaneously combust keeps Wilson pushing back.

HITTING HEATHER

Sowards is ripping Wilson for supporting the bank bailout and for having a questionable pro-life record. And that's just the start. He posted on his web site a long litany of complaints against the five-term former ABQ congresswoman who in any other era would be deemed a solid conservative, but not in this one when a large segment of the GOP teeters precariously on the cliff.

When Lt. Governor John Sanchez dropped his challenge to Wilson it spared her from having to move too far to the right and thus endanger her general election chances in moderate New Mexico. Sowards does not have the stroke of Sanchez and Wilson is holding her "moderate" ground--so far. She got a break with the news backdrop, seizing on the cuts in federal spending to Los Alamos National Labs and the harm they will do to the northern New Mexico economy. Her military background and national security expertise give her easy entree and she is holding two town hall meetings on the cuts--one in Los Alamos and one in Rio Arriba County. Rio Arriba is interesting. It is one of the most Democratic counties anywhere, but many businesses there depend on that Los Alamos money. Could it offer Wilson and the R's an opportunity to make a few inroads?

A FAR-RIGHT FANTASY

The far-right of the GOP has gone so far off the farm that Wilson's critique of federal spending cuts to Los Alamos or possible future cuts to ABQ'S Sandia National Labs is being questioned. They want just about all government cut, no matter the economic or national security impact. They've been aided and abetted--somewhat astonishingly--even in the halls of academe.

A leading economist at the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business Research recently questioned the merits of all the Federal funding we receive. "If the federal government is so good, why are we so poor?" She asked. That is pretty jaw-dropping stuff. The obvious answer is that the thousands of people employed by the federal government and its thousands of private contractors here are anything but poor. Neither are our citizens who work at businesses that employ them because they get federal funds. Whew, someone call new UNM President Robert Frank. Looks like we need some refresher courses at the UNM biz bureau.

Billions of dollars in economic activity is not about to burst forth from a fantasized free-enterprise Nirvana that is envisioned by those who just don't seem to understand the genesis of the modern economy here. Maybe we can get to that promised land someday, but not by sending the state into an economic dark age brought about by an emotional disdain for anything government related.

Like the general public, Wilson gets this, but has to tip-toe among the radical right and carefully explain it until after the June primary. Her current conundrum is illustrated by this NM Dem Party attack:

Wilson, who spends half her time demanding that government spend less money and the other half complaining when her Party’s cuts hit New Mexico, was also shamefully silent in her defense of Los Alamos National Labs when Paul Ryan proposed a budget that slashed its funding by 17 percent, an even steeper cut than LANL faces now. She was asked time and time again, and given every opportunity to take a stand for the Labs when the Representative from Wisconsin was trying to shut down almost 20% of their funding – but she refused to stand against the popular view within her own Party.

She will be hearing a lot more of that after June 5, but for now Sowards and his followers are armed with pitch forks. While they may seem to be a far away threat, Wilson will take it seriously. Who wants to feel a sharp tong in the back?

DAN, JANICE AND GARY

The GOP preprimary delegates gathered at ABQ's Crowne Plaza Hotel will also vote Saturday in that three way battle for the ABQ Congressional seat. Former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones put out an early boast that she will secure over half of the delegates. She apparently wanted to build some fund-raising momentum as her coffers at last count were barely registering $20,000. But by making that prediction, she has to perform. ABQ City Councilor Dan Lewis is her most potent rival at the convention. He has had better fund-raising luck than Janice, but not by much. He had less than $100,000 cash on hand in the recent count. The third contender--retired Army Seargent Gary Smith--a political newcomer--has been working the phones hunting for delegates, but the 20% mark appears elusive. His team says he is fine with having to get extra petition signatures to make the June ballot. That makes it much easier for Janice to reach her self-promoted majority of over 50%.

Lewis has not seized the bull by the horns. Arnold-Jones is well-liked by what's left of the more moderate wing of the party, but is loathed by the hard right. Enthusiasm for each of them is low. Smith has an opening to be an alternative, but it will take major money and a message that moves the faithful. (Lewis is coming with a hit mail piece on Janice as he works to shore up support before the preprimary).

National R's have backed off of this race some, seeing the ABQ seat as more and more blue going forward. They will wait for the dust to settle and see who emerges. If polling shows some possibilities, they will come with the money. Against that backdrop, the Democratic nomination for the state's first congressional district is a lot more valuable than the one the R's will begin to settle this weekend. 

GO LOBOS (AGGIES, TOO)

We wrote in jest about the mayor of ABQ urging everyone to root not only for the UNM Lobos in today's big NCAA games, but also the New Mexico State Aggies who also won a bid to the big dance. We joked that the ABQ Mayor should stick to the Lobos. Not surprisingly, a number of readers did not think it was a joke and chastised us. But reader and Aggie fan Angelique Jaramillo put it all in perspective:

Hey Joe. We Nuevo Mexicano's should all be proud that both of our fine state universities are playing in the NCAA. Lobo or Aggie, NM is playing with the best, for the best. Gotta tell ya tho, Lobos drew a sweet bracket and hopefully will make it to the Sweet 16 (even us Aggies will be pullin' for them). Hey, where is your reverence for the Aggies? Deep down, the Guv will be rooting for the Aggies--from her home town!

First, Angelique Jaramillo, congrats on having a great name. It sings. Second, we will make sure to root for both the Lobos and Aggies today. As for Susana, she's for whatever team the state Senate is against.

RESTAURANT ROW

We mentioned a few of our restaurant visits this week to which Mary Clark of ABQ responds:

As a regular reader of your column, I had to give you a shout out to "The Cube" a BBQ restaurant just east of The Copper Lounge. Try it, you'll like it. Thanks for keeping it real.

We have tried The Cube, Mary, and we enjoyed the barbecue. As for keeping it real, that's a house speciality around here.

Reader Jeff Buckles comes with some reaction to our restaurant report on Duran's Pharmacy near downtown ABQ that is ripe with La Politica of long ago:

Joe: I’ve been to Duran's off and on since in the mid-80s (I believe the original pharmacy/restaurant started across the street in the 40's), and they have always had a tendency to serve up tepid chile. On the positive side, the beans have always been excellent and the tortillas are still the best I know of (outside of homemade). I started going there in the mid-80s because I was working as a law clerk for Big Ed Mechem, who served as New Mexico's Governor, as a US senator and federal judge. The law clerks went to lunch with him every day, and he really liked going to Duran’s because he would run into old cronies there, some of whom would say, “Hello Judge,” some “Hello Governor,” and even the occasional “Hello Senator.” Anyway, that’s what Duran’s is to me---my two years with one of the grandest New Mexicans who ever lived.

Thanks much for that, Jeff. Here's more info on Ed Mechem. We really enjoy bringing the history of the state alive....that's why they call this....The home of New Mexico Politics...

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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