Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Michelle Crowned Dem Belle In Light Turnout Primary; Martinez Loses Showdown In Clovis, Plus: US Senate And The Legislature As The Blog Wraps Primary 2012 

The big story of Primary Election 2012 wasn't necessarily who won and who lost, but the dismal turnout. Even a dead heat race for the Democratic nomination for the ABQ congressional seat could not get them out of the bleacher seats and down on the field. Only about 24 percent of the registered Dems appeared to be stirred enough to make a decision between Michelle Lujan Grisham, Eric Griego and Marty Chavez. Statewide Dem turnout appears to be around that same 24% mark. GOP state turnout dipped even further to 21%.

Some blamed it on the lack of tight races other than that congressional contest and they had a point, but other political pros took it as a sign that people are fed up with politics and politicians and have a negative view of policies--yes, even our beloved La Politica.

Many, many more voters will be engaged for the main event in November, but this primary revealed that the parties and the politicos have a lot of work to do to make themselves relevant to the everyday lives of Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico.



Those who did care to vote in that too close to call ABQ congressional race gave Michelle Lujan Grisham what looked like a mandate after days of chatter about how tight the contest was. Three polls showed it to be a dead heat, so when she bested State Senator Eric Griego by five points--40% to 35% with Marty Chavez at 25%--the gap looked like the Grand Canyon, even if it was relatively close.

Michelle had the momentum going into the final two weeks and she had the muscle--major third party money from the women's group EMILY's list. In an after Midnight radio interview on our KANW-FM broadcast, Michelle did not hesitate to credit women for her victory, saying the "radical Republican attack on women's health care" was important in driving women to the polls for her.

Analyst John Wertheim noted that the Dem Party is now dominated by women. Griego led with them early, but in the polls they were the most undecided group going into the final stretch. They broke sharply for Michelle and she now wears the crown.

Longtime Dem pollster and analyst Harry Pavlides--who had given the edge to Michelle before the polls closed--explained that Griego's ballyhooed get-out-the-vote program fizzled:

Griego's GOTV did not work because the voters were not receptive because along with a good field operation, you need a candidate who can move voters. He wasn't articulate and over the years he has proven to be abrasive. She, on the other hand, was a fresh face who came on strong during the one and only TV debate when no one expected it and she did not make any major mistakes. The negative TV attacks made on Griego's driving record might have made a difference of a couple of  points. But Eric's field operation just did not move the numbers--even at the voting center at Bandelier Elementary in the heavily liberal SE Heights. The bottom line in following the results was that Griego's wins were not big and her wins were just big enough....

So is a congresswoman born? Lujan Grisham, currently a Bernalillo County Commissioner, is a nightmare candidate for Janice Arnold-Jones who was unopposed Tuesday for the GOP primary nod.  She could have drawn a sharper contrast with Griego. Now she faces another woman who showed an ability to appeal across her party. She might be able to do the same with the broader electorate.

Apart from that, there are the demographic trends of the district. National pundits already rank it "likely Dem" for the November election. 

The race for the nominations for the US Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Bingaman were as anticlimatic as everyone expected. ABQ Rep. Martin Heinrich took down State Auditor Hector Balderas on a 58% to 42% vote and former ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson easily dispatched Greg Sowards of Las Cruces. She trounced him 70% to 30%. That Balderas performance was a bit better than expectations. GOP pollster and analyst Bruce Donisthorpe explained it this way:

Heinrich had broad support across the state. He won on the shoulders of a huge victory in ABQ. Hector benefited from the sole TV debate held a couple of days before the election because it closed the stature gap and helped him with those who voted on Election Day....

We interviewed both Wilson and Heinrich following their big wins and both took pot shots at one another. Surprise!

Heinrich starts the race as a slight favorite because the state is majority Dem and Wilson has been unable to break out of the low 40's in the early polling. She has trailed Heinrich in all the recent polls, but she has the ability--and the money--to win it.


Governor Martinez got a black eye Tuesday night courtesy of Clovis rancher Pat Woods who handily beat Angie Spears--52% to 45% (a third candidate who had dropped out got 3%) in the most prominent legislative battle of the evening. Martinez, stretching the gubernatorial envelope, not only endorsed Angie, she made a personal campaign appearance for her and allowed her chief political operative, Jay McCleskey, to pull out all the stops and run a slash and burn campaign against Woods. It backfired, as voters sent a message that while they may like Susana--they like her as Governor--not as the decider of who will represent them in Santa Fe. Donisthorpe came with this:

This race was fought hard in Clovis and Woods did very well there. That closed it out. People decided they can support their friends and neighbors despite outside interference. You are always cautioned in politics to pick your fights very carefully. If they had a do over on this one they would think long and hard before doing it again.

The loss had implications well beyond the results of the race. A lot of Republicans gave money to the Govenror's SusanaPAC envisioning that she would used that money to take out Democrats, not Replications. They wondered why the money was being spent on a primary race when it could be used later to help the GOP take back the state House.

Pollster Brian Sanderoff said the Woods-Spears contest would not have much impact on the Governor when it comes to her dealings with the Legislature--that Woods would vote with the Guv on all the major issues. Perhaps, but GOP consultant Bob Cornelius says he wants to see how Republican legislative leaders--particularly Senate Minority Leader Stu Ingle of the east side--play it. Ingle was rumored to also be in McCleskey's sight for a primary challenge that never materialized.

Most important, several of our analysts agreed on the most substantial development that could happen as a result of the Spears loss. It is not about senators complying with Martinez's legislative agenda, it is now about McCleskey who became a public issue via paid and free media in the Woods-Spears race.

If the Governor loses any confidence in McCleskey--easily the most influential advisor to a Governor in recent memory--because of lost political battles, she could dilute his power and broaden her circle. That could result in a change in government polices and what legislation she pursued with the Legislature. After all, they don't call Jay "The Fifth Floor" for nothing.

But former prosecutor Martinez has shown that she loves a good fight--win or lose. It would be surprising to see her move against McCleskey--unless, of course, her own popularity starts to take a hit.

On the KANW Air
My KANW analysts, including State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino and former NM Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim and the aforementioned Cornelius, did not see any major change in the balance of power in the Legislature as a result of the primary. They said we will have to wait until November to see if the R's can pick up any House seats and take over the chamber which now is almost evenly divided. The Governor had a big loss in Clovis, but the Reform NMPAC that was closely linked to her put some points on the board, when Santa Fe Mayor David Coss was upset by Carl Trujillo for the Dem nod for the state House seat being vacated by House Speaker Ben Lujan. Trujillo rejected the help, but now that he is going to the Roundhouse (there is no R running in the district) he will be closely watched to see if he plays cozy with Susana.

But there was mostly give and take in the legislative battles and most old hands recognize the recipe for gridlock when they see it. That's what we have had in Santa Fe for two years and that's what we are going to have for two more--despite Susana and Jay's best efforts to take over the world as we know it.

For example, you could argue that Dem Michael Padilla who won the nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Eric Griego will be a more moderate voice than Eric (No R is running). True, but then Jacob Candelaria will be going to Santa Fe to replace outgoing Senator Bernadette Chavez, a Dem who often has conservative instincts. Candelaria does not.

Dem Senator David Ulibarri was defeated in western New Mexico by either attorney Maxine Velasquez or Clemente Sanchez. Only three votes separated them for first place. Either of them would be more liberal than Ulibarri. The winner, however, will have to get past Vickie Perea, a particularly tough GOP contender.

Senator Lynda Lovejoy of NW New Mexico lost her seat to Jemez Pueblo's' Bennie Shendo Jr. He is not expected to vote much differently than Lynda (No R is running).

Still, Senator Ortiz y Pino looked at his glass as half empty because while the Guv did not advance her cause a whole lot, either did his side. He came with this analysis of the ReformNM PAC, financed by big oil and with the same address listed as the Guv's SusanaPAC:

...The Governor's Super PAC, Reform New Mexico Now, sent out mailers blasting candidates in at least five races. The only incumbent Democrat that RNMN targeted was Grants area State Rep. Eliseo Alcon, who won handily anyway and is now chomping at the bit to work against her agenda in the next session.

But the other four races worked out well for the Governor. She sent out negative material against the progressive challengers to Senators John Arthur Smith and Phil Griego, both of whom won Tuesday night. And she sent out negative material on Rep. Eleanor Chavez and Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, progressive candidates in two races for open seats and both of them lost. So RNMN has got to consider its money well-spent. After all, they blocked four progressives...

True enough. But blocking is not scoring. Which leads to the current Santa Fe slogan, "Let the Standstill Continue"


Al Park may have suffered the most damaging result of any politician in the state on Primary Election Night. He spent well over $150,000 on the Dem nomination for the ABQ area Public Regulation Commission seat and lost. He was ahead most of the evening, but as results rolled in around 11 PM he began falling behind--and more behind. Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya gave us our big upset of the evening as she defeated Park who suffered more humiliation when he finished third behind Cynthia Hall.

We broke the story of Al's three person law firm taking in $600,000 in a state risk management contract from the Republican administration over the course of only ten months and it was all down hill from there. Montoya, aided by last minute matching funds for her publicly-financed campaign, put a spot on the air comparing Park to disgraced former PRC Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. and it worked.

Park's political career may have soared if he had won, but his decline actually began when he sided with the Guv on repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, That was the first sign that Al was moving away from the liberal wing of his party--the wing that nominates.


History was made on ABQ's west side last night. Jacob Candelaria, 25, ensured that he will became the first openly gay male elected to the state Senate and possibly its youngest member ever. He trounced primary foe Carlos Villanueva. There is no Republican running for the seat so Candelaria will get a four year term and replace Senator Bernadette Sanchez who did not seek reelection.

Candelaria, who works on equality issues professionally, did not see his sexual preference make much of a difference in the contest. During the course of the campaign President Obama announced that he now supports gay marriage.

Obama's announcement and Canadelaria's election show how an issue that used to pack so much political punch is now fast becoming moot.

By the way, Candelaria is much more liberal than Senator Sanchez who on occasion showed some sympathies toward GOP Governor Martinez.

GOP pollster Donisthorpe made a bold call that Eric Griego would win the Dem nod for the ABQ congressional seat. When he didn't, we asked Bruce what went wrong. "We Republicans have some things to learn about these Democrats," He joked....

In fairness, Bruce's May 22 poll for this site was spot on, showing a dead heat in the ABQ congressional race but he says he overestimated the effectiveness of Griego's ground operation...

Marty Chavez took his loss graciously, appearing on our radio show to take his lumps. Will we ever seem him run again? He is too much of a pro to rule it out, but we would not bet that we will see him back on the ballot....

All three congressional campaign managers went unheralded during the campaign but Alan Packman for Chavez, Ed Yoon for Griego and Dominic Gabello did bang-up jobs for their candidates. Even if that means being good at being negative...

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver had a pretty good night managing the new way of voting--69 early vote centers instead of 180 voting sites. The vote count was slowed a bit but the clerk was not defensive when offered some constructive criticism. She said she is going to do some tinkering to improve on the speed of the vote-counting for the presidential election. Toulouse Oliver has slowly but surely improved the election performance of the clerk's office from the epic disasters of the past...

Thanks to all of those who contributed to and listened to our KANW 89.1 FM broadcast. We signed off about 1:10 AM and are finishing the blog up at about 5 AM...Wonder if there's an Election Night party still going on?.....

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