Thursday, April 14, 2016

SOS Race Might Not Be The Lay-Up Dems And Most Everyone Else Thinks; Nora's New Look And Tough Talk; Maggie's Second Time Around; A Sharper Edge Needed? Turnout Looks Tricky 

Nora Espinoza
Okay, it's official. The Democrats have their worry beads out over the Secretary of State's race.

Campaign finance reports released this week set off the worry-warts as they began the first round of gaming the contest between BernCo County Clerk and Dem SOS hopeful Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Roswell State Rep. and GOP SOS contender Nora Espinoza. Both are unopposed for their party's nomination in the June 7 primary and will face-off in November.

That report showed Maggie with $105,000 cash on hand, compared to $78,000 for Nora.

The race has been previously framed as a lay-up for the Dems because of the expected higher voter turnout in this presidential election year and the assumption that Espinoza, known for wearing showy hats and holding deeply conservative views, would not mount a significant campaign. But the cash count and developments on the campaign trail seem to dispel that notion.

Espinoza spoke on a recent Sunday at a large fund-raiser held on behalf of the NM GOP by Valencia County attorney and former State Rep. David Chavez. Our Alligators were in attendance and snapped today's pic showing Espinoza shedding her trademark hat that gave her a non serious air. In its place is a newly styled candidate looking the part of a professional businesswoman.

A liberal group backing Toulouse Oliver labels the SOS contest as "competence versus crazy" and it's that meme that Espinoza hopes to prevent from taking hold.


Former ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne, a Democrat, veteran political consultant and freshly minted attorney who is one of our Election '16 analysts, is one of those casting a fresh eye on the SOS match-up:
Toulouse Oliver

It's obvious that they are working to change Nora's image and are going to be serious about trying to keep this office in the Republican fold. The assumption that the turnout model makes a win automatic for Maggie has been upended. The electorate is not excited about any of the possible presidential candidates. I think we will have an increase in turnout but one that a Republican could withstand if they can get their vote out, as they usually do. There is also an ethnic factor for the Democrats, with the R's again putting up a Hispanic surnamed SOS candidate. 

Republican Brad Winter is the current Secretary of State. He was appointed by Governor Martinez to fill the position when Dianna Duran, the first GOP SOS to serve since the 1930's, was forced to resign over the misuse of campaign funds. This election is to fill out the remaining two years left in Duran's term. There will be another SOS election for a four year term in 2018.

Democrats did little to inflict lasting damage to the GOP brand over the Duran scandal, treading lightly as has often been their approach during the Martinez administration.

That approach was also on display in Toulouse Oliver's ill-fated 2014 run for Secretary of State when she was hammered relentlessly by TV ads but failed to respond. She lost to Duran who was re-elected 52% to 48. Former Roswell State Senator Rod Adair, who consulted Duran and worked in her office, is now consulting Espinoza's campaign.

Payne says Toulouse Oliver, who has won widespread praise for her job performance in two terms as county clerk, is spending too much on consultants ($65,000 of $190,000 in her first report), needs to craft a stronger TV image and prepare for partisan warfare:

She needs to be wary of thinking that a broad bipartisan approach alone will necessarily work in this topsy turvy political environment. Espinoza will work to push her to the far let and Maggie will have to push her to the far right. She has plenty of ammo to do that, but she must learn how to pull the trigger. This is not a county clerk's race. 

At that Sunday GOP fund-raiser Espinoza was already sharpening her attacks on Toulouse Oliver, claiming she is soft on voter fraud, voter ID and too involved in "progressive" causes. That's the red meat that drives GOP base voters to the polls.

Espinoza may have shed the hats, but not the political hat tricks that have given the R's an historic run in the office of Secretary of State.

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