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Monday, October 27, 2014

Battle For The House: GOP Leader Gentry Pummelled By PACS As Dems Seek Game-Changer, Plus: Latest Polls On Guv And Senate Race, Also: Spinning Out Of APD 

Democrats have thrown a stink bomb at the GOP's carefully crafted plan to take control of the NM House of Representatives. Now the question is whether voters will hold their noses and vote for ABQ NE Heights GOP State Rep. Nate Gentry or eject him and perhaps change the entire dynamic of the campaign.

The relentless attacks on Gentry, an ABQ attorney and the House Republican Whip who is seeking a third two-year term, seemingly came out of nowhere. His seat was seen as safe Republican in an off- year election and he was not on any of the target lists circulated by the political parties.

Gentry has been serving as a consultant for other Republican House hopefuls as they labor to pick up the three seats they need to take control of the Legislature's lower chamber for the first time in over 60 years. The House is currently divided between 37 Dems and 33 R's. But Gentry has to tend to major trouble in his own backyard as Dem-favored super PACS Patriot Majority and ProgressNowNM throw the proverbial kitchen sink at him via incessant mailers and radio ads.

The attacks are on Gentry's character, citing his past arrest for aggravated DWI, criminal assault involving an altercation in Washington DC and a citation for illegal hunting. The pounding has been so intense Gentry called on his former boss--retired US Senator Pete Domenici--to cut a radio ad attesting to Gentry's character, But that drew snickers from the Dems who note that Domenci was disgraced when after he retired it was revealed that he had fathered a secret love child with a lobbyist who was the daughter of another US Senator. Whether Gentry's Republican base will share that Dem derision  is the question awaiting answering.

Rep. Gentry
Gentry hasn't hidden from the past, owning up to the aforementioned charges in the ABQ Journal questionnaire. Also, most of them were highlighted several years ago by the now defunct Independent Source PAC. But  having them highlighted publicly with tens of thousands of attack pieces is not something he counted on.

And even bigger guns were aimed late last week at Gentry who has been mentioned a possible Speaker of the House if the R's were to oust the Dems. ProgressNow came with this eyebrow raiser:

What would someone be hiding by checking into a hotel under an assumed name? That’s a great question to ask embattled Republican House Rep. Nate Gentry. While representing his constituents at a national conference for state legislators, Nate Gentry registered and stayed at a high-class hotel under an assumed name. . . Legislators from around the country attend National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) events every year. . . Registration records and hotel bills from NCSL’s 2013 Spring Conference show who attended and how much organizers paid for each hotel room. . .Registration records show that Gentry registered on April 11, 2013, along with fellow Rep. Monica Youngblood. Legislators we’ve talked to tell us that hotel rooms were booked separately from the conference registration. But when the conference rolled around next month, Nate Gentry never had a hotel room to stay in. Instead, a mystery hotel guest surfaced on the bill for New Mexico’s legislators. 

Gentry appears to have some 'splainin to do as the fake registration is about to come to a mailbox near you. . .

STRONG COFFEY?

Bob Coffey
So does Gentry opponent Bob Coffey Jr., a Highland High school teacher and first time candidate, actually have a shot of upsetting Gentry and giving the Dems a seat that could keep them in power in the House? Gentry's win in 2012 was not overwhelming--53.9% to 46.1%. With fewer Dem voters this year that winning percentage could have been expected to rise. That's now in question. Dozens of Dem walkers flooded into District 30 over the weekend in an effort to turn the tide.

Besides the Dem super PACS Gentry has had trouble on his right. Both the National Rifle Association and right-to-life groups see him as too moderate on their issues and signaled they are working to hold him back,

Even if Gentry emerges victorious and the R's take over the House, Democrats believe they have delivered a fatal blow to any aspirations Gentry had to become House Speaker. Certainly Gentry, who has been delivering political punches on behalf of Gov. Martinez, is now learning what it's like to take them.

WHY DEMS?

The Dems are hitting the statewide TV airwaves in their effort to hold the House. Patriot Majority came with this TV ad giving reasons why New Mexicans should keep the Dems in power. It scores the Rs for opposing an increase in the minimum wage, not supporting robust education funding and for advocating tax cuts for "wealthy out-of-state corporations." There is a problem with that one--it was Dems joining with Republicans who approved a controversial 2013 corporate tax cut.

The battle for control of the House is rated a toss-up. Frankly, our Alligators and analysts are a bit befuddled by the immense amount of money flowing into the handful of competitive races that will determine the outcome. Polling is out there but it is not decisive. The battle goes on. . .

COALITION CASE

It's not idle talk you are hearing about the possibility of a conservative led coalition to rule the House if the GOP fails to take it over next Tuesday. Even the loss of one Dem seat would put the R's one Democratic vote away from a tie and just two votes away from a governing coalition. What Dems might jump ship? Take a look at this:

. . . State Rep. George Dodge is a Democrat in the closely divided New Mexico House. Asked if he would cast his ballot for Martinez on Nov. 4, he replies: “I haven’t decided yet, but you know what, I’m definitely leaning that way.”

State Democrats are so rudderless and their leadership so anemic, it's easy to imagine Gov. Martinez Democrats sprouting up in the House as they have in the Senate where a conservative coalition currently rules. More to come. . . .

MARTINEZ  VS. KING

The Governor continues on track for re-election but how robust of a victory? The ABQ Journal poll taken Oct. 21-23 and released Sunday shows Martinez with 53% and Dem rival Gary King at 38%. Undecided was at 10%.

A poll conducted by BWD Global for NM Politics with Joe Monahan October 21 had it 56% for Martinez and 37% for King. A key difference in our survey from that of the Journal's is Hispanic support. Our poll has Martinez garnering 45% Hispanic support. The Journal has it at 40%.

The margin of error in the Journal poll is 4% and 3% in the BWD Global poll.

These numbers indicate that Martinez has reached what has been considered the upper limit for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in a Democratic state--55%. That's the level reached by GOP Governor Gary Johnson when he won re-election in 1998. But there is a major caveat.

King's media presence has been so minimal that he may not benefit as much as he should from the usual late Democratic surge and gets stuck, allowing Martinez to push toward the 60% mark.

The answer is important to down ballot Dem candidates because if King stays stuck it will mean Democratic turnout has dropped and that could make the difference in the closely watched races for secretary of state and state land commissioner as well as judicial races far down the ballot.

UDALL VS. WEH 

It's no walk in the park for Dem US Senator Tom Udall who has been battling Republican foe in this environment unfavorable toward the Dems. But Udall does lead 50% to 43% in the ABQ Journal poll. Udall will not let his foot off the gas for a minute during the last week. Weh can be encouraged to keep pounding away as the upset may not be likely but not completely out of sight.

BACKING OFF

In the face of Martinez's impending win, the forces of opposition are backing off. The Santa Fe New Mexican joins the Taos News in endorsing Martinez over King. And bizarrely, the editorial cites Martinez's corporate tax cut--a tax policy the paper has opposed--as a major "accomplishment."

It has been axiomatic that the paper endorse the liberal candidate and earlier in the year we predicted it would. But then came the King campaign--flaccid and lacking in identity and the polls showing a Martinez win as nearly inevitable. One wonders if NM Democrats have finally hit bottom when they can't hold onto the paper right in the heart of their Northern base.

SPINNING WITH APD

The chaos continues at the ABQ Police Department with its newly hired spin doctor already spinning out of the place. Veteran PR operative Janet Blair was coining $95,000 a year. Even that was not enough to persuade her to stay in a post that was slowly eroding her reputation as APD continues to operate in the shadows. Blair's nadir came when she was forced to flee TV cameras. Not good.

The city has set up a series of public meetings to discuss APD, but discussion is not action. There still has been no major personnel changes to alter the culture of the department which has led to the current crisis. Meanwhile, the trial lawyers are lined up and the lawsuits continue over the numerous police shootings. It's going to be unlike anything you've ever seen in this town. And before it's all over it won't only be the taxpayers paying a price--so will the politicians who led us into this abyss and refuse to lead us out. Don't say we didn't tell you. . .

THE BOTTOM LINES

Robin Thymes
We were saddened to hear of the passing of Robin Thymes, a fixture at the NM Legislature where she lobbied on behalf of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She was well-known in political circles for working for a variety of Republican candidates and for holding party office. We had a number of fun-filled conversations with her about La Politica and they always ended with a note of humor and a smile.

She was a loyal Republican but was proud to have broken ranks to vote for the first African-American president. Robin was 53. . .

And we lost former Secretary of State Shirley Hooper last week. She was 78 and served as secretary from '79-'83. Back then the SOS could only serve for one term, but Hooper made another try for the Dem nomination in 1990 as well as in 2006 and lost. We remember her fondly. . .

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