Monday, May 21, 2012

More Michelle Mo: Analysts Say She Won TV Debate, But Race Is Still Open, Plus: Much More On GOP Chaos In Clovis, And: DA Kari & Astorga; The Political Angle 

We found a clear consensus in the hours following the one and only TV debate between the Dem contenders for the ABQ congressional seat--Michelle Lujan Grisham came out on top--but analysts were much more ambiguous about how that will actually impact the three way battle at the ballot box.

Going in to the Saturday night face-off, State Senator Eric Griego, with his large liberal base and power performance at the March Dem preprimary convention, was seen as the front-runner. Lujan Grisham was seen as closing in on Griego and having momentum because of good TV ads and newspaper endorsements. Former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez was seen lagging, in part, because he was being heavily outspent.

Regardless of where they stand, Lujan Grisham, a Bernalillo County Commissioner, attorney and former state government cabinet secretary has found her voice in this battle. Of the email and phone calls we fielded in the aftermath, this one best summed up the one hour debate:

Michelle and Marty both did well, but Michelle took the win because she got Marty and Eric to quibble. The podium positioning of Michelle between the two helped. It also helped that Marty used his question for Michelle to ask what she thought about Eric. That made Marty and Eric both look bad.

Eric doesn't debate well, lost his way a few times and stumbled. He clearly didn't look like he had the momentum or developed any more. Pitting yourself as the idealist against two problem solvers doesn't work for an electorate that needs solutions. He just doesn't come across well on TV. I think they all did fine on their positions but it seemed like Michelle and Marty just had a more mature, experienced perspective..

And a comment from a Senior Alligator:

Marty and Michelle were the clear winners.  Eric lacks the necessary TV presence that Marty and Michelle have and he muddled his message with references to Blue Dog Democrats....Michelle was well prepared but her undercover effort to highlight nursing home fraud failed to impress and seemed a bit quirky.  So, how do you pose as a stroke victim?

From our perspective, Lujan Grisham carried the night but this was her last night to dance with Chavez and Griego. She could use some more forums to advance the ball further. Still, her focus on getting women to the polls was boosted by her debate performance.

 Griego had a flat debate, but he has vocal supporters motivated by ideology and he has the know-how to get the vote out.

Chavez had a solid debate performance but he needs the race to get shaken-up. The lack of joint appearances going forward is also a drawback for him. He has a big wave of TV set for the final days. They're going to have to work.

The debate was aired on KOAT-TV. You can view it here


Hector Balderas is expected to do well in northern New Mexico in his race against Martin Heinrich for the Dem US Senate nomination. The Santa Fe New Mexican came with a Sunday endorsement of Balderas that made the case:

His life story is testament to the American dream and the power of hard work. His political life shows a man unafraid to battle the powerful...


We have more of our continuing coverage for you today of the hottest of the hot state Senate primaries. That would be the showdown in Clovis that is tearing at the fabric of the state Republican Party and shredding some of the Governor's support on the conservative East Side. A Senior Alligator weighs in on the negative mailer posted here Friday that rails against Republican rancher Pat Woods. He's facing off against Angie Spears, who is endorsed by Governor Martinez and being managed by her political advisor Jay McCleskey.

The mailer was put together and sent out by Targeted Creative Communications which is owned by Dan Hazelwood, husband of Blaize Hazelwood, former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff and currently head of Grassroots Targeting. She is a friend and business associate of Nicole McCleskey, the pollster who is married to Jay McCleskey and works for the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.  These folks control most Republican candidate races throughout the country and take in multi-millions. They have left their connections intact at the RNC and now also have operatives in Romney’s camp. They apparently have always had the blessing of the heads of the national Republican Party to play in primaries. No one in the New Mexico Republican Party is complaining because they are all scared to death.

Yes, the trail from Clovis leads to the most interesting of places. As for Republicans being "scared to death," we don't doubt it, but if Woods wins or come close, the scare will spread--all the way to the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse.

Matt Chandler
There's more on this banner race. Clovis area District Attorney Matt Chandler--ally of Martinez and Jay--is sticking his nose under the tent for Spears. He comes with this mailer that slams Woods and identifies himself as a "concerned Republican" not as DA:

Woods has spent thousands of dollars over the past ten years helping liberal Democrats advance their campaigns. It is a fact that Woods recently donated to liberal Democrat State Senator Tim Keller of Bernalillo who is using this contribution to take on a Republican candidate in this very election cycle...It is also a fact that in 2004, Mr. Woods donated to the Democrat that ran for the very same Senate seat that Mr Woods is trying to win...

Woods showed the press some records showing that over the years he has donated $9,700 to Republicans and $2,100 to Democrats. He explained that some of his donations to Democrats were based on lifelong friendships.

Never mind that it didn't used to be a mortal sin for someone to donate across party lines,  but in today's hyper-polarized environment the political enforcers on both sides of the aisle go apoplectic if they see it happening.

As for Chandler, he was the GOP nominee for attorney general in 2010 and may make another AG run in 2014. He was going to make political hay over the alleged judicial bribery case of Las Cruces Judge Michael Murphy. A number of outlandish charges were (or are) being investigated in connection with that case in which Chandler was named special prosecutor but Murphy has since resigned.

Locals in Clovis take issue with Chandler for not revealing his ties to Angie Spears. The Woods campaign comes with this:

Chandler should have mentioned, in the interest of full disclosure, that he is the District Attorney for Curry and Roosevelt Counties, his wife is Angie Spears' cousin, Angie’s husband is the Office Manager in the District Attorney’s office and Angie’s Treasurer is an assistant district attorney working for Mr. Chandler....

Is getting Matt up to his neck in the Clovis mess the best way to unite R's when he runs for attorney general? After that attack on his mailer, we're just asking.

Colin Hunter
The clash in Clovis has already claimed its first victim. Colin Hunter, vice chairman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, has resigned that position. The news comes on the heels of a report that Hunter is director of the Friends of Freedom PAC which has given money to Angie Spears and  failed to file its financial reports on time. Party rules say its officers can't get involved in contested GOP primaries.

Hunter is a lawyer in the law firm of GOP national committeeman Mickey Barnett, a close ally of McCleskey's who runs SusanaPAC, which has also given money to Spears as well as Rob Doughty, the ABQ NE Heights Republican Senate candidate favored by Martinez and McCleskey over Mark Moores. Nancy Cooper is the other GOP candidate in that race. Hunter denied there is any collusion between Freedom PAC and Susana PAC and denied any plan to keep secret for as long as possible donations to Freedom PAC. He did admit that his involvement with the PAC was questionable and resulted in his resignation.

Barnett was at the center of the last major internecine Republican war in 2004 when his wing of the GOP successfully ousted Ramsay Gorham as state GOP chair. During that time period he also openly discussed how he was spearheading efforts to primary Republicans who were not to his liking.

Barnett and McCleskey were at the center of that earlier Republican strife and history appears to be repeating itself here. The difference this time is that the titular head of the party--Governor Martinez-- is front and center and freely admitting that she is taking sides in Republican contests.

The mention of that Doughty-Moores GOP primary raises the question of who is ahead there? They both are well-financed, but Moores has more political experience than trial attorney Doughty. He is the former chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor Walter Bradley and worked for Ken Zangara, the car dealer who for years was prominent in state GOP politics. Doughty is chair of the racing commission, appointed to that panel by the Guv. All eyes are going to be on this one election night. Will Moores and Woods in Clovis win and get a "Two Fer" over the Guv and Jay? Or will they go down in flames and strengthen the Guv's hand in branding the GOP her way?

(In our first draft we incorrectly said SusanaPAC gave money to Doughty's campaign).


Here's Heather Wilson with GOP New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a a high-dollar fund-raiser last week at the swanky 21 Club in New York City. Tics were going for $2500 a pop to support Republican Wilson's US Senate bid.

She won't be spending much of it in the primary as challenger Greg Sowards has barely put up a fight, but she will need plenty of the green stuff when she faces the winner of the Democratic primary June 5.

By the way, Steve Kush, now the executive director of the Bernalillo County GOP, was an operative for Christie when he won the Jersey Governor's race in 2008.

Meantime, Greg Sowards, the far right GOP foe of Wilson has put up this ad on the Web. But he gave himself $1.1 million. What happened to that?

Sowards still has time to go up on TV, but unless he has something shocking on Heather, nothing is going to change the outcome of the contest.

Kari Brandenburg
Some might argue that the failure of Bernalilllo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to get the death penalty for Michael Astogra, who in 2006 killed a county sheriff's deputy, opens her up to attack by her Dem primary opponent Jennifer Romero. That is, if Romero had any money to launch an attack and assuming she disagreed with the Santa Fe jury's decision that gave Astorga, 36, thirty years behind bars without the chance of parole. He will get even more time when he is sentenced for another murder conviction.

Brandenburg, who is seeking a fourth four year term, assures the public that Astorga will never walk the streets again. That is probably enough for most New Mexicans. The state has repealed the death penalty (Astorga's crime was committed before the repeal) and there has been only one person executed in New Mexico since 1960.

Brandenburg is poised to win the primary and faces no Republican opposition in November. But that doesn't  mean it's going to be easy. This campaign has revealed her loss of media support and increasing restlessness over the number of fatal police shootings that have afflicted the city since 2010. Brandenburg stands charged with not being aggressive enough in investigating the shootings. The US Justice Department raised the possibility of coming in to investigate, yet the local DA stands by. It is a stark contrast.

It's not easy being DA. The tough on crime crowd wants the death penalty for Astorga for shooting a law enforcement officer and a large swath of the community wants you to step up and ask the tough questions on police policy and behavior. With the Astorga case behind her, Brandenburg has an opportunity to revisit her quiescent posture towards APD. Whether she does may well determine her legacy in the office as well as any future political prospects she may be nurturing.


Attention, all New Mexico TV station managers. We urge you not to read the following item but if you do, please have your nitroglycerin on hand for any heart problems that may be induced:

Crossroads GPS plans to (spend) $8 million on a TV ad that castigates Obama on the economy by using his own words against him," per the AP's Phil Elliott. "'We need solutions, not just promises,' says a 60-second commercial that's to run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia...

Yes, there is no New Mexico listed as we drop off the "swing state" roster and with it the TV markets that get showered with cash.

(Alright, TV station managers can resume reading the blog).


Photobucket What happened to the staff of northern GOP Congressional candidate Rick Newton. Our sources reported most of them are gone. Newton comes with this response:

As much as I love spending time in Taos, I have concluded that we should open a new headquarters in Rio Rancho that can better serve the counties of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Los Alamos as well as enable us to attend the many political events that are held in Albuquerque....We will be announcing more details on our new location and staff in Rio Rancho very soon...The move to Rio Rancho resulted in two full-time staff members resigning since they reside permanently in Taos....

Newton is opposed by Tucumcari rancher Jeff Byrd. The winner gets the right to face Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan in the heavy Dem district in November.

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