Thursday, May 21, 2020

Virus Upends Primary: No ABQ Journal Polling For Major Races, Plus: Alligators And Analysts Look At The Contests As June 2 Primary Nears 

Add to the list yet another way the virus pandemic has upended the June 2 primary election. There will be no polling of the big primary races by the ABQ Journal which has conducted the closely watched surveys for nearly 35 years.

Pollster Brian Sanderoff confirms that the paper will not be in the field this primary but did not give a reason. It's assumed that finances are a cause as the shutdown has negatively impacted media revenues And polling an election in which every registered major party voter has been mailed an absentee ballot application presents exceptional challenges.

The major races this year are the battles for the GOP southern congressional and US Senate nominations and the race for the Dem nod in the northern congressional district. Campaigns are conducting polling but it's not the same without the unbiased, scientific Journal survey which the political community relies on to shed light on the thinking of the electorate.

Still, the show must go on. With no polling to guide them, we asked political veterans to game the top races and key state senate primaries.

Former ABQ city councilor, state legislator, campaign consultant and now practicing attorney Greg Payne says he gives the edge to Teresa Leger Fernandez in the seven way race for the Dem northern nomination "She's run the best campaign but I see the race narrowing some in the final days. Look for her to take it but not by as much as some might think."

In the southern congressional battle, Payne sees Yvette Herrell capturing  the GOP nod as she did in '18. "This is a repeat of two years ago when Monty Newman and Herrell had a nasty primary. Herrell lost the November election, in part, because of Newman's challenge. This time Claire Chase is playing the Newman role and it's nastier than ever. Herrell should survive the primary but the general election is another question."

The GOP US Senate campaign has been pretty much a nonstarter and Payne sees former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti scoring a primary win over Gavin Clarkson and Elisa Martinez. However, Ronchetti Has been busted by both of his rivals for public statements he made separating himself from Trump. That could impact the race in the light innings. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is unchallenged for the Dem nod.


Conservative senators who often caucus with the chamber's Republicans to form a conservative coalition on key budget and social issues are under fire by progressives this primary and have fielded challengers against the incumbents. Let's go back out to the track where the Senior Alligators are placing their bets and getting ready for the action.

Senator John Arthur Smith--Neomi Martinez-Parra: This could be another of those "closer than people think" races, but our Gators see Smith prevailing. However, as one of them puts it, "Four years ago John Arthur won by only ten points against a poorly organized primary opponent. This time there is a better candidate who should hold him to single digits.”

Insider tip: Smith's wife is an educator, giving him insight into an issue that liberals are using against him.

Sen. Richard Martinez--Leo Jaramillo: The video of Sen. Martinez's now infamous DWI arrest was devastating but was it enough to take out the longtime Rio Arriba political fixture? This one looks like a toss-up. Senator Gator analysis: "Richard has very loyal supporters. The problem is people who like him may believe that his time has passed. He will lose Los Alamos County but the DWI may be watered down elsewhere. A bigger turnout could result due to all voters being mailed absentee ballot applications. Some of them won't be as familiar with his travails but recognize the name. Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo is the opponent but this is a referendum on Richard and it's a toss-up."

Insider tips: Martinez was a longtime Rio Arriba magistrate before becoming a Senator. Jaramillo also has a DWI record.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez--Pam Cordova--This is a 50-50 race that is the one mostly likely to go to a recount, says a La Politica insider: "Sanchez is used to very close races. Cordova is keeping him hopping. However, she is from Valencia County and there are slightly more votes in the district in Cibola County where Clemente lives. This one is a coin flip.

Insider tip: Sanchez is married to a Native American, an important voting bloc.

Sen. Gabe Ramos--Siah Correa Hemphill: The Senior Alligators say this is the seat most likely to flip to the challenger. The Governor grudgingly appointed Ramos to fill the vacant seat. County commissions in the district gave her only one choice. Sr. Gator analysis: "Joe, Hemphill is a compelling candidate. She's also an educator and Dems like to vote for educators. Look at the Legislature. Because Ramos was appointed, this is more like an open seat than an incumbent's race. Ramos is getting PAC help but the race appears to be leaning her way."

Insider tip: This SW NM senate district was carried by Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Dem Prez primary.

Sen. Mary Kay Papen vs. Carrie Hamblen: The progressives have a quality challenger but 88 year old Mary Kay may hang on. The Gator take: "It's perhaps a case of too little too late. A third candidate recently got out of the race. That helps Hamblen but that third name is still on the ballot and could make the difference as the anti-Papen vote still splits, just not as much.

Insider tips: Papen's late husband Frank Papen, a wealthy banker, held this senate seat back in the 80's. Hamblen is a 20 year veteran of public radio and is a familiar voice in the Las Cruces area district.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ramped Up Rhetoric Gives Over The Top: "Dead Democrats," Scorching Plame Are Latest Examples, Plus: Kicking Up Trail Dust  

"Cowboy" Griffin in the Oval
Each election cycle the rhetoric grows so heated and over the top you think it can't get any hotter. But it does. Now with less than two weeks to go until the June 2 primary the rhetorical reachers have taken it to new heights--or lows.

We start in Truth or Consequences in Sierra County where a Cowboys for Trump rally featuring local GOP candidates was held. No big deal. Until Cowboys founder and GOP Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin took the stage and took it way over the top, declaring to a crowd that whooped in delight: "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat!" Say what?  Here's Griffin in full:

I've come to a place where I've come to the conclusion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don't say that in the physical sense. I say that in the political sense because the Democrat agenda and policy is anti-American right now. . . Our country is not coming to a place where you like or hate Donald Trump, our country is coming to a place if you love or hate America.

And Griffin wasn't done, MLG, who has been taking heat in rural New Mexico for the coronavirus shutdown, was also in his sights:

If we have a bunch of lying, thieving, crook communists like Michelle Grisham at the helm we're going to go down the road where New Mexico is ranked the least desirable state in the nation to live in. 

Cool down Cowboy Couy, or someone is going to rein you in. Of course, a spokesman for the governor recently calling the GOP a “death cult” hasn’t done anything to cool the rhetoric.

The video is here. The quote about dead Dems is at 20:37 and the quote about MLG is at 19:40.

There's more beyond the pale rhetoric to blog. . .


They call controversial media ads "incendiary" but you need a new adjective to describe this takedown of Dem northern congressional candidate Valerie Plame. The ad drips with despicable innuendo, including tagging Plame a "White Supremacist," implicates her as a Nazi and labels her "a disgraced racist millionaire." That's not all. The 45 second ad asserts that Plame has promoted a web site that "smears Mexicans."

The ad in English is here. The ad in Spanish is here.

The dark money PAC Alliance to Combat Extremism (ACE) Fund takes credit for the hit job which also has Plame pictured with racist David Duke and then slaps Ku Klux Klan masks on their faces.

The PAC calls the ads--one in English and one Spanish--"No Hate New Mexico." But that's exactly what the ads are--not hit pieces--but hate pieces. The group says it is doing a "six figure" TV and digital ad buy but any TV station concerned with truth is going to have to swallow hard to take the money and give them an airing.

It isn't exactly a no-brainer to post them here but we do so in defense of the truth, knowing that they will be pushed out on social media--paid or unpaid--and that we are dealing with a sophisticated audience here--not a general one.

The genesis of these ads is that Plame ran into trouble when she retweeted an article perceived as anti-Semitic. She apologized and has said during the campaign that she is one-quarter Jewish. But the tweeting incident was enough for the Alliance to go off the deep end and into a sea of deceit. The racist ad merits the condemnation of all her opponents. One of them, Santa Fe County DA Marco Serna, has condemned it: "This new ad represents the worst of what dark money brings into politics."

Teresa Leger Fernandez came with this: "This type of vilification has no place in our politics and I strongly condemn this video. My life’s work and my campaign has been about love, not hate."


More on the TV game. . . financially challenged GOP US Senate candidate Eliza Martinez comes with an ad scoring competitor Mark Ronehetti for his anti-Trump quote caught on tape: "I used to be a Republican until the orange one." She is hoping it will raise her money to get up on the air with a serious buy. Ronchetti is dominating the airwaves.

This comes in from DC:

CHC BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Hispanic Caucus launched a multi-platform ad buy in support of Teresa Leger Fernandez running in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. The ad, “Be of Service,” highlights Teresa's New Mexico roots, her decades of service to Northern New Mexico, and her fight to ensure everyone has access to affordable health care.


MLG once served as a BernCo County Commissioner but incumbent Dem Commissioner Michael Quezada isn't getting her support in the June primary. She says:

Frank Baca has long been a champion for everyday New Mexicans. As county commissioner, Frank will fight to deliver the mental health resources needed to address the root causes of crime and homelessness in Bernalillo County. Frank is exactly the type of leader we need locally in Albuquerque and I am proud to endorse him for Bernalillo County Commissioner District 2.

Our Alligators report that the governor was upset that Quezada supported GOP Commissioner Lonny Talbert as the chairman of the commission over MLG favorite and Dem Debbie O’Malley.

Quezada, 57, of Breaking Bad acting fame, is seeking his second four year term to represent the South Valley. Baca, 64, is a retired criminal defense attorney who has also been a prosecutor. No R's need apply and none have. This one is all D all the time.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Will Dark Money Debate Shed Light On Leger Fernandez? Foes Pick At Congress Front-Runner, Plus: Torres Small: The Tortured Soul Of La Politica? 

John Blair
Can "Dark Money" shed some light on northern Dem congressional front-runner Teresa Leger Fernandez and close the daylight she has put between herself and her six opponents?

Two dark money groups--PACS that are not required to disclose who gives them money--have bought $300,00 in TV ads to boost attorney Leger. That has brought the wrath of her opponents--especially former congressional staffer John Blair who is demanding that TLF publicly rebuke the PACS and "disavow" their support.

He made the point in a KOAT-TV debate Sunday and was echoed by fellow candidates Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya and Santa Fe County District Attorney Marco Serna.

The problem? According to one consultant not involved in the campaigns, the dark money charge against Leger could hurt her with progressives who hold disdain for such PACS, but the electorate at large is probably not engaged. In fact when it comes to campaign money the public often goes MEGO--My Eyes Glaze Over.

Nevertheless Leger is firing back at Blair and company, with a finance Gator saying:

. . . The TLF campaign cannot by federal election law coordinate or in any way communicate or cooperate with any outside groups that decide to support her candidacy. To be very clear, none of this so-called "dark money" has gone to Teresa's campaign -- it is separate outside spending that is completely out of her control. For her campaign's part, she is not taking corporate PAC money and the majority of her support is coming from in-state. . . Despite (Blair's) attempts to be relevant and his proclamations about End Citizens United and dark money, TLF is the candidate that has actually been endorsed by End Citizens United and Let America Vote, the nation's leading groups on campaign finance reform.

Maybe Blair got the first part right--he found something to hang his hat on in trying to take Leger down a peg but the second part--calling into question her character and motives--eludes him because his campaign lacks TV money and the dark money issue is not all that stark.

That brings up how TLF has gotten off easy in this campaign. In a glowing endorsement the New Mexican praises her years as a water rights attorney and for her community involvement, but there's been no news stories--none--about any bumps in the road for her career or life hat might have voters questioning their support of her. For a candidate over 60, that is a big time break.

So an essentially unvetted TLF is poised to become the next northern congressional representative. It will be up to the Republican nominee to pick up anything the Dems left on the table, but the district is so heavily D it would take take a bombshell disclosure to stop her. That is not the case in a contested Dem primary.

Leger Fernandez has run the best campaign of the bunch, had excellent fund-raising, is generally liberal on the issues and has solid organizational abilities as witnessed by her big preprimary convention win. That's what the voters know about her. That they don't know a lot more can't be blamed only on a burdened press but the inability of her six challengers to effectively challenge her.


Observers on the left are left to wonder if southern NM Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small is the most tortured soul in La Politica. She worked as a staffer for one of the most liberal senators in the nation--Tom Udall--and she is married to one of the most liberal members of the NM House--Nathan Small. Yet her supporters say her conservative/moderate district demands that she be pragmatic. That can rankle a large contingent of voters in more liberal Las Cruces who were instrumental in getting her the gig in 2018 and who say she finds herself at odds with the principles she really believes.

The newest blow to those doubters came when XTS was one of only 14 House Dems to vote against the latest coronavirus relief, a $3 trillion measure that includes aid for New Mexico to close its budget gap as well as for financially stricken cities under 500,000, some of which are included in XTS's sprawling district.

But she turned thumbs turned down on the bill that passed the House as she shivers at the prospect of losing the seat this year in a district that Trump arrived by ten points in '16 and that she won by just 2 points in '18. She said:

Hard times call for strong priorities, and Congress should put aside partisan politics to rebuild through smart infrastructure investments,” she said in a statement after the vote, adding that she supported relief to states, local communities and tribal governments and hazard pay for essential workers, but more than $1 trillion in the bill “was spent elsewhere."

Pragmatism may be the order of the day but it doesn't earn XTL any profile in courage award. Her Dem critics say she could have voted for the measure to show support for states and cities, healthcare workers and first responders whose jobs could be cut due to budget deficits. Then she could have voiced opposition to parts of it and later supported an amended version. The bill is expected to be negotiated with the Senate.

XTL will get a break from the political torture chamber in the June primary where she faces no opposition but come the fall she'll be back in it.


Reader Rick Lass in Mimbres picks up on an error we made in our Monday blog about high-level political endorsements:

Joe, Ben Ray Lujan for Congress in 2008. He served on the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from 2005-2008. So either Gov. Richardson endorsed Lujan for PRC in 2004 or for Congress in 2008- or both? I know firsthand because I was the Green Party candidate for PRC in 2008 and the Dem was the Jerome Block Jr. I would not have been in the race if Lujan was running for re-election.

Thanks, Rick. Richardson actually endorsed Ben Ray for PRC in 2004 and that drew howls from Bob Perls who was challenging Ben Ray in the primary. We covered that on the blog in March of 2004.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Once A Primary Rarity Top Tier Endorsements Become Common; Heinrich, MLG And Haaland Chiming In And Taking Sides For Their Favorites  

Sen. Heinrich
Once highly coveted but rarely given, primary election endorsements from the New Mexico political hierarchy are now as common as the ducks at Tingley Beach.

For example, ABQ Dem Congresswoman Deb Haaland has waded into the seven way Democratic battle for the northern congressional nomination by endorsing Teresa Leger Fernandez. That made for six very unhappy Democrats who won't have Haaland on their Christmas gift lists. And what if front-running TLF were to falter and not win the June 2 primary? The Dem who did win would be heavily favored to go to DC and serve with Haaland. Or perhaps fight with her.

Native Americans are a large voting block in the Third District--if they can be motivated to vote. Haaland is one of the first Native Americans to serve in the US House.

Dem Senator Martin Heinrich has a list of endorsements for this primary that's as long as a pandemic unemployment line. Like Haaland, he doesn't seem concerned about the potential enemies he is making by taking sides. (His complete list here.)

Seeking to push his favorites to power Heinrich has endorsed Leo Jaramillo in his challenge of Sen. Richard Martinez of Espanola; Carrie Hamblen in her campaign against Sen. Mary Kay Papen in Las Cruces; Pam Cordova over Sen. Clemente Sanchez in the primary for a Grants area Senate seat and Siah Hemphill who is challenging appointed Sen. Gabe Ramos of Silver City.

Noticeably absent from Heinrich's list is Neomi Martinez-Parra, the opponent of leading conservative Dem Senator John Arthur Smith. It seems there are limits to how far Heinrich will push the envelope.

Heinrich, who recently hired former NM Dem Party Vice-Chair Juan Sanchez as a political adviser, will become the state's senior US Senator upon the retirement of Sen. Udall in January. Coincidentally or not, he appears to be pursuing a higher profile in state politics. Not that this is his first time to endorse in a primary. . . .

Heinrich, 48, went all in for his buddy and state land commission candidate Garrett VeneKlasen in 2018 only to see Stephanie Garcia Richard take the prize. It was a setback for Heinrich but one that apparently caused him little pain. He was also an early endorser of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016. His progressive politics reaches deep into the environmental moment but not as much elsewhere.


Let's not forget MLG. She came with an unusually long roster of endorsements in contested Dem state House and Senate primaries. None were earthshaking but were notable for her willingness to wade into the primaries in such a big way, a departure from past governors.

Key point: MLG did not openly challenge the leading figures of the ruling conservative Senate coalition compromised of conservative/moderate Dems and all GOP senators. She did endorse the opponent of appointed Silver City Senator Gabe Ramos, a member of that coalition. However, she only appointed him after objecting that no other names had been sent to her to choose from by the county commissions in the district.

The power of these endorsements is minimal at best. Voters are not persuaded much but they can help with fund-raising and demoralize the opposition. One question is whether any of the endorsements might someday come back to bite the big name endorsers.


Governors endorsing in primaries is not without precedent. In the 2008 primary Gov. Richardson gave his blessing to Dem Harry Teague who was seeking the southern congressional nomination. He won. Richardson also endorsed Ben Ray Lujan in his 2004 Dem primary for the Public Regulation Commission. That drew howls from Bob Perls, Lujan's opponent.

One of the more memorable endorsements from a big name player came in 1998. GOP Senator Pete Domenici threw his considerable political weight publicly behind Heather Wilson who faced a crowded field for the Republican nomination for the ABQ congressional seat to replace Rep. Steve Schiff who had passed away. She came up a winner.

In 2012, Gov. Martinez's political machine went all out to defeat Republican Pat Woods for an eastside state senate seat, instead backing Republican Angie Spears in that year's primary. Woods defeated her. That was just one instance when Martinez let loose on R's she felt did not toe the line.

One of the Senior Alligators--and we mean Senior--goes back to the days of US Senator Dennis Chavez to pick a bone with Heinrich over his eagerness to endorse candidates in primaries.

I think Heinrich is rather foolish to get himself involved in so many contested primary races. Sen. Dennis Chavez tried doing that in 1960, endorsing in a number of Dem primary races, including Lt. Governor. Every one of the candidates that Chavez endorsed lost their primary races. Of course, at that point Chavez was nearing the end of his long career (he would die only two and a half years later), but the defeat of all of his endorsed candidates that year showed how much his great power and influence had waned through the years.

And Heinrich's past efforts to insert himself into contested primary races has not been very successful. He is putting his own political career in jeopardy by doing this on a regular basis and unnecessarily making foes within his own party. I predict this will ultimately catch up to him.

Being a Senior Gator, he even sent a copy of the June 1960 ABQ Tribune article chronicling the Chavez endorsement failures.


Sen. Chavez
Speaking of Sen. Chavez, (1935-'62) he's considered by historians as the most consequential senator the state has produced. Sen. Udall recently came with this in honor of his fellow Democrat:

Udall Celebrates Legacy of Senator Dennis Chávez in Senate Floor Speech Honoring 70th Anniversary of ‘El Senador’s’ Speech Defending American Values from McCarthyism

Udall spoke on the Senate floor and submitted a speech for the Congressional Record honoring the legacy of U.S. Senator Dennis Chávez (D-N.M.), the first American-born Hispanic U.S. Senator. In the speech, Udall highlighted Chávez’s principled stance on the 70th anniversary of Chávez becoming the first sitting senator to deliver a speech on the Senate floor denouncing then-Senator Joseph McCarthy’s smear campaign against American government officials and members of civil society.

McCarthy repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that prominent U.S. government officials, intellectuals and American civil society had been infiltrated by communists and Soviet spies. He was censured by the full U.S. Senate in 1954, four and a half years after Chávez spoke out against the chilling effect of McCarthy’s conduct.

Udall added:

 Now – more than ever – we must aspire to the courage of Senator Chávez. History will be the judge – by rewarding courage and exposing cowardice.

If you could have dinner with only one political figure in state history Dennis Chavez would be the guest of honor.

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