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Monday, September 09, 2013

Berry's Lead Over Dinelli Grows; Analysts Warn Big Mayoral Loss Could Have Statewide Impact For Embattled Democrats, Plus: Berry Nice Guy Image, Not Issues, Seen As Driver In '13 Contest  

Mayor Berry
The polling numbers in the ABQ mayoral race remain so dismal for Democrat Pete Dinelli that conversation is already shifting to what it means to the future of the D's if Dinelli goes up in flames like Zozobra and Mayor Berry wins in a landslide.

In fact, after the release Sunday of the ABQ Journal poll showing Berry at 63% and Dinelli at 18%, the only way Pete may get any attention going forward is if he lights himself on fire (Republican Paul Heh came with 2%).

An outright win by Dinelli has never been in the cards, but with two polls showing Berry far above the 50% mark, the prospect of Dinelli forcing a run-off election are also dim.

Early voting across the city starts Sept. 18. Dinelli will have to have Berry below the 50% mark on that day or his task will get progressively harder each succeeding voting day. Election Day is Oct. 8.

The August 26-27 scientific mayoral poll conducted for New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan had Berry at 56% and Dinelli at 19%, but then Berry hit with a negative TV ad calling Dinelli "risky." Dinelli had no TV up in response and the ad (and mailer) went unanswered. That pushed Berry further into the stratosphere in the Journal's Sept. 3-5 survey.

In our poll, Berry had 77% Republican support. The Journal had him moving up to 88% among R's on the strength of that negative TV and a slightly higher weighting of R's in their survey.

But we don't mean to get into the polling weeds on you.

The bottom line is that a Democratic disaster in ABQ would not just mean a defeat for Dinelli, but such a demoralizing blow would set the table for the 2014 Governor's race and the GOP effort to take control of the state House for the first time since the early 50's. Unenthusiastic Dems means low turnout. Low turnout improves the GOP's chances.

WHY HE'S WINNING

Mayor Berry has dodged more bullets than James Bond these past four years, among them is the worst economy in a generation and an out of control police department that brought the Feds to town to investigate.

Democrats, perhaps cowed by the aggressive GOP hit machine led by consultant  Jay McCleskey, have done nothing to hold his feet to the fire. Nothing. And that, says veteran Dem consultant Harry Pavlides, means this election has come down to likability:

Dinelli has to turn young people on and get them to come out and vote. But his perpetual frown contrasts with the smiling, eager to please image of Berry. That leads people to say, 'Why do I want to vote for Dinelli?' 

This is one of those times where likability is the main ingredient in an election. Berry is likable and appears to be energetic and Dinelli is neither. Voters like this mayor because he has not given them any reason not to. His party is pursuing a far-right agenda nationally, but he has not been tagged with it nor has he pursued it.

Dinelli finally hit the airwaves with his first TV ad on Friday. That he did not come earlier is now universally seen as a major mistake. But it wasn't all his fault. He has only $350,000 in public financing to spend. State Democrats and their interest groups failed to form any PACS on his behalf (save one labor union effort)  to fill the TV void. Dinelli was set adrift on open seas in a wobbly life raft.

Now he has the unenviable task of trying to get Berry to finish below 50% and force a run-off election. Nothing is impossible and politics can change in a flash, but unless big outside money comes in and it's used to hammer Berry without mercy, Pete's raft will be sunk and he will be floating alone on his life preserver.

TROUBLED DEMS

Dem Chairman Bregman
Rarely has the New Mexican Democratic Party been in such dire straits.

State voter registration gives them nearly 50% of the voters and the same for ABQ. Still, the GOP owns the governorship, the ABQ mayor's office the ABQ city council, has functional control of the state Senate and now even worse Dem nightmares could be in the offing. We go now to a Senior Alligator whose analysis ties it all together:

The Journal mayoral poll is bad, but not just for Pete Dinelli. It's bad for Democrats. The rationalization will be that  the problem is Dinelli and his campaign, and/or a shamelessly one-sided news media. That's only part of the story. 

The larger one is how these numbers reflect what's going on with NM Democrats. In a Blue city like Albuquerque, the mayor's race is a canary in the coal mine. The next big political blowout could be the 2014 Governor's race where the stakes and down-ballot impact are even higher. 

ABQ City Council Democrats bent over backwards to work with Berry while state legislative Democrats did the same with Governor Martinez (no hearings on the Downs at ABQ lease, voting for a corporate tax cut, etc.). Neither group has done their job and held Republicans accountable on core issues. Instead, they've followed a wishy-washy policy of compromise and conciliation, doing just enough to placate their grassroots but not enough to really upset or offend the GOP power structure.

And what of the Democratic Party itself? There was a lot of self-congratulatory talk this weekend at the state central committee meeting and the "Rising Stars" fundraiser. But the organization has been a non-entity and a non-factor in the mayor's race. Sam Bregman ran for party chair and won by saying (in what has become a laughable line), "there's a storm coming." In a sense though, he's right. There is a storm coming. The mayor's race is just the beginning of it. But it's Democrats who will be caught in the middle simply because they lack the political courage, conviction, organization and determination that their GOP "friends" have.

Hard to believe now, but in 2012 President Obama carried Bernalillo County by 43,000 votes.

Consultant Pavlides warns (along with that Senior Alligator) that if Dinelli is trounced and top state Dems read the results as a rejection of a populist/progressive ideology, they will play right into the hands of the GOP which in 2014 will do all it can to get a low turnout, conservative electorate.

BERRY REBUTTAL

Mayor Berry comes with this rebuttal of Dinelli's first TV ad which focuses on Berry's positions on the minimum wage and abortion. Berry's campaign calls it "nonsensical and false." And here's a TV news report fact-checking the ad.

As for the forlorn economy, Berry, the business community, the media and a large swath of the electorate all seem content to turn a blind eye to the systemic problems the city faces, embracing the Mayor's lowering of expectations. His central economic theme is that we should be thankful that we are not a bankrupt Detroit.

What happened to Albuquerque as a leading 21st century city? This Mayor asks us to see ourselves as cast members of "Survivor," simply lucky to be getting our next meal.

With the economic conundrum the city faces so perplexing and no easy solutions evident, the establishment seems relieved to embrace Berry's contention that avoiding becoming another Detroit is good enough. Those who feel otherwise seem to be voting with their feet.

READER MAYOR MAIL

Reader JD Robertson argued here last week that the mayoral election is simple--the voters see Mayor Berry as a "nice guy" and that's plenty amid low expectations for the city for Berry to get re-elected October 8. An anonymous emailer comes with this follow up:

Why is it that the worst thing a NM politician can be is ambitious? Ask anyone why they don't like former Mayor Chavez or Governor Richardson and they'll say that they got cocky or wanted to hold higher office. Or, they'll say that Mayor Berry and Governor Martinez "could be worse." When will New Mexicans get ambitious for their kids to have a better life?

Say what you will about Chavez and Richardson but they worked hard to sell the city and the state to employers. They were caught trying. Berry and Martinez seem very content to pay out huge settlements rather than fire a bad police chief or to scare off TV and film producers and send money to out-of-state mental health firms rather than convince businesses to locate in NM. I just don't get it.

UDALL ON MEET

Dem US Senator Tom Udall took to NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday to make his case against military intervention in Syria. Video is here.

CELEBRATING TEN YEARS

Congrats to reader Carlos Acosta. He's the winner of $50 for giving us the best news tip of the week.

 Carlos tipped us off to the details of the ABQ Journal poll that was being conducted and which is being released this week. He gave the kind of advance details political junkies thrive on and which have been a staple of NM Politics with Joe Monahan for the past decade. Way to go, Carlos.

We're celebrating ten years of blogging this month and will be giving away another $50 this week for the best news tip or email about state politics. So send them our way and thanks for your continued support....

UNDER THE DRESS

Overheard at the NM Democratic Party fund-raising dinner at the Hotel ABQ Friday night:

A woman who ran for the Legislature asks another woman prominent in Dem party circles: "Where are the balls in the Democratic party these days?" She answered: "Look under your dress..."

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