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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ronchetti Trying To Outrun Ben Ray With Negative TV As Campaign Clock Ticks Away, Plus: MLG On The Trail For Biden, And: Big Oil Reacts To Big Demographic Changes 

Lujan and Ronchetti
GOP US Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti is trying to make the most of a rare polling gift he received this month. He has gone full-scale negative in an effort to turn the race his way after Dem US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan came up short of the magic and psychologically important number of 50 percent in the ABQ Journal survey. Never mind that Ronchetti is stranded at 40% compared to Lujan's 49%, the perception of the poll has given him a glimmer of hope.

Lujan is not letting it go unnoticed as the pair plays tit for tat with their negative ads. Ronchetti is vastly underfunded compared to Lujan and he has to make a polling move soon in order to attract the national dollars that would be needed to make a race of it in October.

Meanwhile, it appears the chances of there being three TV debates between the pair is on the rise. Lujan said if Congress is in recess October 5, when KOB-TV has its debate scheduled, he will make the stage. The latest:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged that most lawmakers will likely return to their districts when the scheduled session ends on Oct. 2, leaving party leaders seeking to hash out an agreement with the White House. If such a deal emerges, then members would be called back to Washington. In that sense, the dynamics would look very similar to those surrounding the long August recess. . . 

While Ronchetti has harangued Lujan over not doing three broadcast debates (Lujan has agreed to KNME and KOAT-TV debates) political pros caution that he needs to be careful what he wishes for. Lujan has appeared and performed ably for several years on such national news broadcasts as Face the Nation and the rest. For some reason, he continues to be underestimated but is a walking book on what makes government tick and why.  Ronchetti is a political novice who could find himself outplayed in a debate or two, despite his lengthy experience as a seasoned TV performer doing daily weather forecasts.

The October 5 debate would be the first and could be the most important. That's because county clerks will be mailing tens of thousands of absentee ballots to voters the morning of October 6.

GUV ON TRAIL

MLG is on the campaign trail. The New Mexico Governor has been named a co-chair of the Biden transition committee and was on CNN this week trying to drum up Hispanic support for the Dem nominee. The campaign has been concerned about lagging support among Hispanics in the battleground states.

Meanwhile MLG continues to draw positive attention for her handling of the COVID crisis here. The latest to chime in is Scientific American magazine:

Testing has been a crucial part of New Mexico’s strategy. Tests are available to all the state’s residents, whether they are symptomatic or not, and are processed either at New Mexico’s own laboratory or at TriCore Reference Laboratories, an independent organization based in Albuquerque. Both facilities were switched to 24/7 work schedules very early on to maximize testing output. 

If Biden wins we guess MLG can clip the positive article and put it in her package applying to become Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Also, for the first time in its 175 year history Scientific American has endorsed a presidential candidate--Joe Biden--while criticizing Trump's handling of COVID.

OIL FACES CHANGE

The NYT comes with a secret recording of a meeting over the environment featuring top oil and gas leaders. It's interesting because the oil boys express concern about demographic changes among the public. Here's Ryan Flynn of the NM Oil and Gas Association on the tapes:

“Young voters, female voters, Hispanic voters, really every sector except for older conservative male voters,” Flynn said in the recording of the meeting, “their No. 1 issue when it comes to our industry is always going to be environmental stewardship, and concerns about what we’re doing with the environment.”

This reminds us of early August when oilman and former southern Dem Congressman Harry Teague endorsed Republican Yvette Herrell and the NMOGA's Flynn, a Republican, softened the blow by saying nice things about Dem Hispanic lawmaker Rep. Torres Small who Herrell is trying to unseat. Future profit and survival in the era of climate change are on the minds of the oil crowd and it's sending them down paths previously ignored.

MAYOR 2021

The email brings this:

Joe, this is one of your Republican Alligators reaching out. I work with a lot of Republican leaders and there’s a lot of talk about former ABQ GOP City Councilor Dan Lewis running for Mayor again. He’s actively raising money for county, legislative and federal candidates. He beat 6 other candidates last time and got over 36,000 votes in the runoff. I’ve also heard Public Education Commissioner David Robbins mentioned. . . Please don’t reveal me. :)


Don't worry, Gator, our lips are sealed. But Dan Lewis for Mayor? Sure, he received 36,000 votes in 2017 against Dem Tim Keller but that amounted to only 38 percent of the vote compared to Keller's 62 percent landslide. For now, GOP Gator, you are on training wheels.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Money Chase Highlights Key State Senate Contests In Final Stretch, Plus: Keller And Crime; Administration Pushes Back  

It takes cash to campaign so what do some of those key state Senate races look like in the final stretch now that the money reports have been filed? The reports filed Monday covered June 30 thru Sept. 7 and show where the action is. . .

Among the hotly competitive contests is Dem Katy Duhigg challenging GOP freshman state Senator Candace Gould for a seat centered in the ABQ North Valley. Both contenders are ready for battle. Duhigg raised $85,000 in the period and reports $123,000 in cash. Her contributions included $5000 from the Duhigg law firm, $2500 from Emily's List and a number of big labor union contributions.

Gould raised less than Duhigg--$51,000--but her cash position is solid. She reports $131,000 on hand in this banner contest. Her contributors include $5000 from GOP state Senator Mark Moores and another $5000 from GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle.

There's been scuttlebutt that the R's might have a chance to take District 30, the western NM Senate seat held by Dem Clemente Sanchez who was defeated in the Dem primary by Pam Cordova, but put that on your longshot list. Cordova, a fixture in Dem politics in Valencia County, raised $88,000 in the reporting period, compared to just $23,000 for R Joshua Sanchez. Cordova reports $75,000 in cash. Sanchez has $31,000. Insiders say conservative Clemente, none too happy about his primary defeat, is supporting the R.

Back in ABQ, Harold Pope Jr., vying to become the first African-American state senator, reports raising $51,000 and having $69,000 in cash. He's trying to unseat GOP Senator Sander Rue in the swing westside district. He reports raising just $19,500 but has a healthy cash position of $60,000. NM Democrats kicked in $5000 to Pope and Chevron was there for Rue with $5,000.

ABQ NE Heights Dem State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto reports more cash than just about any Senator-- $99,000. Big contributors included the oil boys. Chevron gave $7,600 and Occidental Petroleum came with $4,000.

Ivey-Soto does not have a competitive race. His R foe raised only $15,000. But what he does have is a competitive contest to become the next Senate President Pro Tem. That power position is being vacated by Mary Kay Papen and Senate Dems will make their new choice after the election. Certainly the oil boys don't want the Senate to go too far to the left and Ivey-Soto won't take it there. His bulging campaign coffers could come in handy for contributions to fellow senators in tight races as he works to round up votes to advance to the highest rungs in the 42 member chamber.

Finally on the Senate money chase today, from the Journal's Dan Boyd:

Republican Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte reported Monday having raised $111,810 during the recent reporting period, with contributions from Chevron and several incumbent GOP senators. Her opponent, Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, who defeated Sen. John Arthur Smith in the primary, reported raising more than $95,000, with financial backing from several union groups and incumbent Democrats.

That one looks like a contest for the title of the Senator from Chevron or the Senator from AFSCME.

All the latest state campaign finance reports are here.

KELLER AND CRIME

Some pushback from the 11th floor of City Hall over criticism on the Monday blog of Mayor Keller and Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair from Tom Grover, a former cop turned attorney who defends many police officers. Grover argued that the troubled APD is due to "micromanaging" by the administration. Keller spokesman Matt Ross with the rebuttal:

One, how could the CAO have been "micro-managing" the Onate protest response when she was sitting in a Council meeting the whole time? The video is public here. It should also have been included in your story that the Council President (Pat Davis) who initiated those claims retracted and apologized in a public meeting.

You're giving space to a lawyer looking for a tax-funded payday, but somehow missed the poll out Sunday that shows Mayor Keller with a 60% approval. That didn't fit your narrative? This isn't an outlier, either: we've seen consistent approval numbers for the Mayor across all three years of his tenure. In crisis after crisis, the Mayor has been a leader people trust to steer the ship. The extremely low disapproval, at 22%, might be even more significant if you're trying to read the tea leaves for an incumbent mayor. Keller's leadership is resonating with real people who don't live and die in the bubble of political intrigue, and that's what matters most.

As for the ABQ Journal poll, we wrote our blog before that poll came out but it actually does "fit our narrative" about Keller which is that ultimately his fate will be decided on the crime issue and that the 60 percent approval hardly tells the full story. We go to pollster Brian Sanderoff for his analysis which dovetails with our own:

Sanderoff. . .said it appears that the public perception of Keller has improved during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that may be partly because the virus has temporarily supplanted crime as voters’ top concern. . .Crime, which was a major issue well before Keller took office, remains a significant problem now. Although Albuquerque’s property crime dipped in 2019, the city recorded the highest number of homicides for any year in recent memory in 2019 and is on pace to break that record this year. The public’s focus may have shifted to COVID-19 for now, but Sanderoff said Keller’s legacy is still tied to the city’s response to crime. “Crime is still lurking as the biggest issue facing the city, and whether people ultimately will continue to approve of the mayor’s performance will ultimately be determined by how he’s perceive as handling crime,” said Sanderoff.

You can call that "political intrigue" or poltical reality. Take your pick.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Early Numbers Point To Record Setting Absentee Ballots For 2020 Election, Plus: ABQ's Long-Running Weekly Alibi Dies; Councilor Davis Deal Falls Through; New Paper Planned  

Early trends confirm that this will be an historic election when it comes to mail-in ballots. Already more than 15,000 of Dona Ana county's 90,000 registered voters--or about 17 percent--have requested absentees. In big Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover reports over 83,000 absentee ballots have been requested, or over 19 percent of the county's 435,000 registered voters.

And that's before the county clerks in those counties and 8 others began sending out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters Monday. Voters who have requested absentees will have them sent to them beginning October 6.

A national nonprofit--the Center for Voter Information--blanketed the state in August with absentee applications, helping to explain the already high number of requests.

One intriguing question: will all of this activity mean more votes than normal will be cast well before the Nov. 3 Election Day? Surely more than normal will be, but political pros like veteran Dem consultant Mark Fleisher say voters tend to wait until the final days to vote. That's backed up by the Secretary of State in the state of Washington where all-mail elections have been the norm for a decade:

. . . Sixty per cent of our ballots came in election week. . .You’re getting inundated right at the last minute, and I think that you’re going to see that trend across the country. I’d like to think voters are going to vote early and be really good and helpful on this front, but I’ve done this too long. . . I think you’re going to see election offices across the country swamped by that late surge of mail-in ballots, and it doesn’t matter how good you are. King County elections, where Seattle is, is one of the most efficient and well-run, and I can tell you that the volume still slows down their processing. It’s just the nature of people waiting until the last minute to vote.

New Mexico has bought itself some insurance to protect against a late wave of absentees that would overwhelm the clerks or not reach them because of mail issues. Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver says the deadline for mailing an absentee ballot has been moved up to October 27. However, voters can still drop them off at special drop boxes set up by the clerks or at the polls until 7 p.m. November 3. Clerks here are also allowed to begin processing absentee ballots well before Election Day.

Still, we have had recent absentee problems. Dona Ana County was overwhelmed by absentees and could not get them counted for days in the Nov. '18 election. In this year's June primary the Santa Fe County Clerk was unable to complete the absentee count Election Night and it also dragged on. Bernalillo County stopped counting absentees at 11 p.m. primary night because of an exhausted crew, although unlike Dona Ana and Santa Fe no major races were still unresolved.

The ten counties that are sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters include the most populated ones of Bernalillo, Dona Ana and Santa Fe plus Sandoval, Colfax, Grant, Valencia, Los Alamos, Guadalupe and San Miguel counties.

As for overall turnout in the election, that too could reach historic highs because voting is being made easier by that absentee push. That could favor the Dems who outnumber the R's 45.6 percent to 30.9 percent. As of August there were about 1.311 million registered voters in the state. Pros expect at least 800,000 votes to be cast in the presidential election--and probably more--surpassing the 779,000 from 2016.

END OF THE ALIBI

The ABQ alternative newspaper Weekly Alibi has ended a nearly thirty year run. A deal being pursued by ABQ Dem City Councilor Pat Davis to purchase the struggling weekly has fallen through. He says:

As you know, I was working to purchase the Alibi and keep it running under that name. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control prevented the sale at close and the Alibi has published its last edition. For those (like us!) who believe Albuquerque needs a strong alternative news source, don't despair. Many of the former contributors and key staff alt-weekly readers know and love have joined our team. We're launching a new weekly in early October - stay tuned!


THE BOTTOM LINES

Reader Dave Matthews gets sarcastic about a recent entry from a Senior Alligator of the Dem variety describing one of the state House races:

“Dem Rep. Abbas Akhil, who defeated incumbent Jim Dines in '18 by only 115 votes to serve as the state's first Muslim-American legislator. . . "

Muslim-American?? I guess that means I’m a Christian-American! Or maybe a Lutheran-New Mexican.  What’s next? Agnostic-Democrat? Buddhist-Republican? The identity politics has gotten way out of hand. Sincerely, Dave Mathews, Duffer-Northeast Heightsian.

During these times of turmoil we welcome your thoughts, comments and general existential angst.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020

Monday, September 14, 2020

Sen. Udall In Play For Sec. Of Interior, "All The Signals Are There" Plus: Lujan Blinks On TV Debate, Big Endorsements In Southern CD Race And Keller's Crime Problem  

Sen. Udall
Add another New Mexico name that's high on the list of possibles for a Joe Biden cabinet, should the Dem presidential nominee prevail November 3.

Joining MLG in the inside the beltway speculation is Dem Sen. Tom Udall who is being prominently mentioned for Secretary of Interior, the post his late father Stewart Udall held and excelled at under President Kennedy. Energy and Environment News (E&E) comes with details:

Udall is on a short list of possible Interior secretaries if Biden is elected, according to former high-level Interior Department officials working for the former vice president's campaign. And Udall would be interested if asked, sources told E&E News. The Democrat, who announced last year he would not seek a third Senate term, has made it clear he's not retiring from public service. "I intend to find new ways to serve New Mexico and our country after I finish this term," he said. . . No final decisions have been made. . . But Udall is at the top of the list, insiders say, citing his strong conservation track record. . . All the signals are there," one official involved in the insider discussions said. . . 

Udall, 72, joins MLG, 60, in having serious interest in being in a Biden cabinet and winning serious consideration. The NYT reported in July the Governor was on the list to become Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

A New Mexican as Sec. of Interior is not unheard of. ABQ GOP Congressman Manuel Lujan, Jr. was named to the slot by President Bush in 1989 and served four years. In the 20's Albert Fall of NM held the position, a tenure stained by the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Udall's ascension to the cabinet would have little impact on state politics. His Senate seat will be filled in November, with Dem Ben Ray Lujan the favorite to prevail over R Mark Ronchetti. But an MLG departure would be an earth shaker. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales would become Governor, naming his own lieutenant governor and igniting a flurry of speculation about what fellow Dems would challenge him for the 2022 Dem Guv nomination. Then there is the question of how Morales would handle the governorship handed off to him in the middle of a pandemic and an economic disaster wrought by the pandemic.

DEBATE BLINK

In that US Senate race Rep. Lujan has blinked on his decision to not appear at an Oct. 5 TV debate sponsored by KOB-TV and his hometown newspaper, the Santa Fe New Mexican. He now says if the Congress is not in session he will appear. The debate sponsors had said if he did not show they would place an empty chair on the stage to represent him.

Lujan was slammed in a newspaper editorial for avoiding the debate and rival Ronchetti has been pounding away at Lujan's no debate decision on social media, even though the five term lawmaker has agreed to two debates--on KOAT and KNME TV. Lujan says he needs to be in DC to vote on any coronavirus aid package that comes up but if the Congress has recessed by then he will do the third debate. Now the question is who gets the empty chair?

SENATE TRAIL

The latest polling has Lujan running nine points ahead (49-40) and while negative campaigning has sprouted up he also continues to push his softer side. An example is his new TV spot. Ronchetti's latest ad accuses Lujan of sharing "San Francisco values" with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also announced his endorsement by the NRA.

SOUTHERN ACTION

President Trump made it official and tweeted out his support of southern GOP congressional candidate Yvette Herrell who is locked in an intense battle with Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Trump's backing is welcome but he could use some endorsements of his own in the largely conservative district. The recent ABQ Journal poll had him winning the district by only 4 points, hardly the landslide Herrell wants so she can ride his coattails into office.

Meanwhile, clever XTS continues to come with little surprises that must be irritating the Herrell camp. First, the NM Oil and Gas Assocation said nice things about her. Now the R leaning US Chamber of Commerce has given her an outright endorsement. XTS was one of the House Dems who scored better than 70 percent on the Chamber's scorecard.

KELLER'S CRIME PROBLEM

ABQ Mayor Tim Keller isn't up for re-election until November of next year but he can hear the footsteps of potential rivals, one reason crime-ridden ABQ is getting a new police chief. Keller made the announcement of APD Chief Mike Geier's departure at an uncharacteristically somber news conference. The weight of the crime epidemic and State Auditor Brian Colon's investigation of alleged wrongdoing at the agency appears to have fully settled on the Mayor's shoulders. Dem BernCo Sheriff Manny Gonzales has all but announced a mayoral bid and Republicans are starting to make noise about possible challengers.

Keller named Harold Medina as acting chief, a move immediately decried by APD critics as presenting the same old wine in a brand new bottle. They say Medina is a product of an aggressive APD culture that brought the Feds to town to reform the troubled department. Keller says he will launch a national search for a permanent chief but with the election so close he could be hard-pressed to persuade anyone to come here.

Medina, Geier and Keller (Pierre-Louis, Journal)
Ineffectively micromanaging APD. That’s the accusation Keller and his Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair have had to deal with as crime continues to soar. Under questioning from freshman GOP City Councilor Brook Bassan Nair denied the charge and became upset and frosty toward Bassan when she asked about the administration's support of Chief Geier before his departure was later announced. Pretty messy.

Tom Grover, a former APD officer and now an attorney who has had many officers and others associated with APD as clients, fired back at the CAO's denial of micromanagement:

“Let me be clear: To the extent you’re suggesting that the 11th floor is making operational or tactical decisions about the Police Department, we are not,” said Sarita Nair to Brook Bassan. But this doesn’t appear to be true. A memo from Paulette Diaz (Geier’s secretary) is evidence that they do micromanage. Geier getting pushed out when he tries to control his office is also evidence that they do. The administration choosing Medina as interim chief when he’s been their snitch and has even been looking for other jobs is evidence that they totally do micromanage. So please spare us the continued lies. (Like Sarita wasn’t micromanaging during the Oñate protest).

Handling APD has been like juggling porcupines and has left visible political wounds on Mayor Keller. Never mind that the epic mismanagement by his predecessor, Mayor Berry, set him up for a fall. He owns it now and he can't return it to the sender.

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