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Monday, March 10, 2014

Morales Gets The Big Mo; Can He Hang On To It? Dem Preprimary Whittles Field; Webber And Rael Get Thumbs Up; King Dealt Death Blow; Lopez Staggered; Top Analysts Weigh In On What's Ahead 

Howie Morales 
The desire for a fresh face, key support from a major teachers union and a rousing convention speech made for a perfect storm that propelled little-known 41 year old state Senator Howie Morales into the front-runner position for the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Morales captured over 29 percent of the delegate support at the Democratic Party's Saturday preprimary convention. It earned him the top spot on the June 3 primary ballot and a nearly 8 point win over his closest competitor. The question now is whether he can hold on to the momentum he captured.

Can Santa Fe businessman Alan Weber, the second place finisher with 21 percent and who is another new face on the statewide scene, take it from him?

How about third place finisher Lawrence Rael? He held on by the skin of his teeth to barely garner the 20% of delegate support needed to get an official spot on the June 3 primary ballot.

As for Attorney General Gary King, the best known face in the race, his fifth place finish with only 10 percent delegate support was a devastating blow to the 59 year old. He has nurtured dreams of being Governor ever since his dad Bruce King accomplished the task on three separate occasions.

The shock of King coming in last was muted somewhat by an insider poll posted on this blog prior to the convention that showed King in deep trouble and that pinpointed Morales and Webber as the front-runners. Still, the scope of the setback was one of the more notable stunners in state preprimary history. 

What was left of the King dynasty was shattered in pieces on the auditorium floor of the Route 66 Casino and Hotel--otherwise known as Gary's Waterloo. He can get on the ballot by submitting additional petition signatures but the chance of a win now is so remote he will have to ponder a withdrawal.

Fourth place finisher and ABQ state Senator Linda Lopez received 18 percent, not far shy of the important 20% mark, but her hopes of getting a push from a good showing were dashed when she came up two points shy of the magic number. Like King, she can file petition signatures to get on the  ballot, but she now faces the challenge of raising enough cash to be a major factor.

FINAL RESULTS

State Dems say 1,455 delegates voted in the Guv preprimary. Here are the final results:

Howie Morales--426 votes or 29.28 percent; Alan Webber--314 votes or 21.58 percent; Lawrence Rael-- 293 votes or 20.13 percent; Linda Lopez--269 or 18.48 percent; Gary King--153 votes or 10.51 percent. 

The vote is to be certified this week. No challenges have yet surfaced.

NOW THE CAMPAIGN

Alan Webber
Veteran NM politico Mike Santullo, an independent and watching the game since the 60's, said the preprimary results present an immediate danger to the three laggard candidates--Morales and Webber could be on track to make this a two man contest:

It's now all about the mother's milk of politics--money. And the money that buys the media. Morales is going to get financial support from around the state because of his showing and Webber's deep personal pockets give him the ammo to fight to the end. Rael hung on but the Hispanic vote could start drifting to Morales if it is not interrupted. Gary and Linda are lying on the battlefield wounded and yelling for the money medics, but their cries will fall on deaf ears. 

Morales immediately went to work trying to translate his victory into cold, hard cash.

Santullo said the three successful contenders have baggage they will have to deal with and that they will now use on one another:

Howie has been cast as an intellectual lightweight and not ready for prime time. If Webber spends big, he is going to be accused of trying to buy the nomination. He will also be contrasted with Morales as the old guy. (Webber is 65). Rael is seen as too conservative for a liberal primary and not the fresh face people are looking for in a party that is seeking new faces.

PAYNE'S TAKE

Former ABQ city councilor and independent Greg Payne--watching the NM action since the 80's--said one reason the weaker candidates will want to continue their campaigns is because Morales is untested:

If Morales can't keep a tight grip on the steering wheel he just grabbed, they will hope to come in and clean up after the crash. But it will be Webber and Rael positioned to do that. King could probably serve the party best by withdrawing and taking on Martinez from his perch as attorney general. Lopez would have been a strong lieutenant governor candidate.

BACA AND THE BOW OUT

Gary King
Former ABQ Democratic Mayor Jim Baca--in it since the early 60's--sees it this way:

Gary King is finished after a dismal showing. . .His laid back approach just isn't working and it might be time to bow out gracefully . . .Lopez is also a candidate for a graceful bow out. She can be content with the fact that she did better than Gary.

Morales. . . out organized the other candidates but now everything will shift out of convention mode into real world mode. Both Lawrence Rael and the anointed outside candidate Alan Webber eked out their ballot counts to get into the game. Now the real campaign to get people to listen will begin. Morales is an unknown to the average voter as is Webber. Rael has some name ID. . . .Really, anything can happen.

THE HOWIE FILE

Morales of Silver City is the youngest of the Guv hopefuls and by all accounts his convention speech was the most rousing. It reminded several delegates of a locker room speech at halftime. He excited the team players and went after the opposition--Gov. Susana Martinez--with gusto (The full speech is posted here).

Morales has been a successful high school baseball coach and Saturday he proved himself ready for the big leagues--at least for that day.

Then there was that critical endorsement from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-NM). They recruited delegates to the convention and provided Morales with vital organization. And it's organization that these conventions ultimately test.

Going forward teacher union money--nationally and locally--could bolster Morales' campaign coffers. No other group has battled so intensely with this Governor than teachers. Her conflict with them has activated that particular base of the Dem Party. If Martinez had not picked that fight, it is highly unlikely Howie Morales would be where he is today.

The Guv and her adviser Jay McCleskey were obviously hoping against hope that they would face the very well-known King in November. That is extremely unlikely now and is a bump in the road for them. But with oodles of money and the power of incumbency, they will soon adjust to the new playing field. Their machine will go to work on Morales and throw in Webber and Rael while they're at it.

PLOTTING STRATEGY

Lawrence Rael
Our preprimary coverage continues now with analysis from Republican Bruce Donisthorpe who has conducted highly accurate polls for NM Politics with Joe Monahan since 2008.

It is a big win for Morales. If I am Alan Webber I am looking to go up with TV ads to interrupt the momentum Morales gets from this victory. If I am Morales I should be contemplating how I can start to consolidate the Hispanic vote, arguing that the convention results peg me as the top Hispanic contender. 

Rael will need to concentrate on fund-raising to compete with Morales. He will also look to poke holes in the Morales record. As for King and Lopez, they are now lost in the desert. It's hard to see a way forward for either.

The only other statewide race that was contested at the Dem meet was over state Treasurer and it was another case of a longtime party insider taking a hit. Tim Eichenberg bested former NM Dem Party Chairman John Wertheim 52.7 percent to 40.7 percent with Patrick Padilla, a former Bernalillo County treasurer who has been embroiled in a county investment scandal, receiving only 7.1 percent. Padilla will have to file petiton signatures if this is going to be a three way race.

Eichenberg was elected Bernalillo County treasurer in the 70's and recently did a stint as an ABQ state senator. He is a property tax consultant who has done well. Wertheim is a successful attorney who has made two runs for the ABQ congressional seat. Eichenberg's convention win gives him the momentum and raises the cost of the campaign for Wertheim. Dem analyst Harry Pavlides said it will also likely force Wertheim to go negative on the front-runner.

SIDEBAR

State Senator Tim Keller was unopposed for the ballot race for state auditor as was Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver who is running for secretary of state. State Auditor Hector Balderas was unopposed for attorney general. Roxanne Lara kept her opponent--Leslie Endean-Singh--below the 20 percent threshold in her campaign for the Dem nod and the right to take on southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce. Northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan scored nearly 99 percent of the vote against attorney Robert Blanch.

MESSY CONVENTION

Delegates and some of the campaigns complained that the preprimary convention was a messy affair, with endless speeches gobbling up hours and hours.

The decision to not count the results from the Dem Guv balloting until all speeches ended was widely criticized for costing the Dems a major media opportunity. Because the results were not released until nearly 8 p.m., the convention and its Guv winners made no news on any of the early evening TV news broadcasts that go statewide.

Inside the hall, delegates wondered why unopposed candidates were given so much time to speak and why the candidates in contested races were allowed to violate time limits. The convention sputtered to an end with only diehards in attendance since delegates were allowed to start voting before noon. Many did and then left. One bright spot for the party--each candidate who went over their allotted time will be fined $100 for each minute they ignored the clock. . . .

Thanks to photographer Mark Bralley for today's photos of the Guv candidates.

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