Friday, May 30, 2008

Final Stretch: Analysis, Predictions, Context & Perspective On Primary Election 2008; New Mexico Covered Border To Border; Historic Contests Near End 

Campaign insiders, my Alligators and the wall-leaners in Santa Fe report that Primary 2008 may have fired up the bottom lines of the ABQ TV stations, but the really big number is all those undecided voters showing up in the campaign polls. It's not the case in all the races, but a considerable number show that the relatively unknown bunch seeking the three open congressional seats have not fired the imagination of the voting public. Perhaps that will change for the fall, but it appears that many R's and D's will forego a vote in the primary, preferring to let others clear the smoke while they prepare themselves for the November onslaught. That being said, there will be winners and losers Tuesday night and we have the consensus viewpoint on the key races, gathered from caffeinated sessions with politicos of long experience.


Heather Wilson gets a final shot to break this race open tonight at 7 p.m. when the NM Broadcasters Association hosts a one hour debate to be aired on KOB-TV, KRQE-TV and KNME-TV. However, it is very late in the cycle and will only be remembered if there is a big error. Wilson roughed up Steve Pearce in their Tuesday night debate, but campaign polling since then still shows the southern NM congressman in a good position to take the GOP US Senate nomination Tuesday night.

At an ABQ Economic Forum appreciation lunch for NM Senator Pete Domenici that I attended Thursday, a Senior Alligator who discussed the race with Pete there said the Senator expressed regret that Wilson, his protégé, appeared to be in trouble. "I should have endorsed her early," our Senior Gator quoted Domenici as saying.

In the end, Domenici declined to endorse Wilson. If Pete had come early, it would have thrown some nails in front of Pearce's bus, but Wilson's fundamental problem--an inability to connect with hard-core conservatives--the most likely primary voters, would still remain. The ABQ Journal will hit the streets with a US Senate poll Sunday. Other polling this week shows Pearce with a mid-single digit lead statewide, and a huge lead in his home southern district.


The campaign of former City Councilor Martin Heinrich is working to get out the vote, keeping in mind that a primary can be volatile and even an 11 point lead, the amount they had in the ABQ Journal poll, can melt quickly if turnout is skewed. Attorney Robert Pidcock unleashed the first negative attack in the four way race for the ABQ Dem US House Dem nomination. He faults Heinrich for being a "part-time camp counselor" who wants to go to Congress. "Who is he kidding?" Asks the Pidcock ad. Martin says Robert has it wrong--that the job was full-time. Also, Pidcock, who has loaned himself nearly $100,000 to air the ads, has run afoul of federal election rules while making his last chance gambit. Challengers Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Michelle Lujan Grisham also trail. If Heinrich's campaign does not let up over the weekend, the prize will be his.


Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White will be the GOP nominee for the ABQ congressional seat. On that, all agree. The question is what percentage of the vote will he get against ABQ west side State Senator Joe Carraro? Polling shows White easily in the mid-60 percent range. He has done no TV or other significant media, so a push beyond that number may be hard to come by. Carraro does have a respectable base in his Senate district and has done some billboards, TV and other media outreach.


Hobbs oilman Harry Teague is expected to score a comfortable win over Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley, but McCamley has put up a fight, and could beat expectations. With the endorsements of Governor Big Bill and Light Guv Denish, Teague's path has been eased. Voters may not be thinking about it, but national Dems think the middle-aged SE oilman who has personal money to help finance a race would make for the strongest southern Dem congressional nominee in years. No D has won the district since 1978.


The roller coaster ride that has been the race for the GOP nod for the southern congressional seat has not come to a screeching halt, but it does appear to be flattening out. The final yards of this foot race seem to be between restaurant chain owner Ed Tinsley and former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman with retired banker Aubrey Dunn still in the chase, but slowing.

My experts say Tinsley continues to do well in Dona Ana County, which will cast the most votes in the primary. Tinsley also appears to have a shot at carrying Chaves. A win in Dona Ana and Chaves could anchor the win. Tinsley will spend Sunday and Monday in Dona Ana.

Newman has come with huge support from the National Association of Realtors--nearly a million in independent expenditures---and a couple of hundred thousand of his own. He has moved from the single digits to double figures, but needs a big breakthrough over the weekend to catch Tinsley. His appeal to social conservatives is his last best hope. Dunn is fading, but a light turnout primary could exaggerate his vote and put him back in position. But with the final days approaching, Tinsley will kick himself if he lets this one get away as he did in 2002.

Don Wiviott
Expectations are for a Ben Ray Lujan win for the Dem nomination in the heavily Hispanic northern congressional district, but uncertainty still surrounds this race. Lujan led in the Journal poll by six points last week, and he seems to be holding. Still, wealthy Santa Fe developer Don Wiviott will stay negative through the weekend, hoping to tie this one up by keeping the many undecided away from the son of the NM House Speaker. It does seem to be keeping Lujan from pulling away.

Lujan is going to finish this campaign in the ancient Spanish lands. San Miguel, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and Mora counties are the anchors for the win. Harry Montoya and Benny Shendo are not polling sufficiently to spoil the 35 year old Lujan's party, but Wiviott on his own remains positioned to capture any late change of heart.

One of Lujan's final TV spots shows him with his famous dad as well as two young women, one of them his girlfriend. This, after gay rumors haunted his final weeks, but did not seem to harm him with voters. He also defends his attendance record as a Public Regulation Commissioner, a record Wiviott has pounded away at with some success. A Wiviott fan called the ad "too busy," but Lujan backers see the spot, combined with Big Bill's endorsement of Lujan this week, as the moves that will secure the win.

History says Lujan should win and polling indicates he is close to sealing the deal, but the district has never been subjected to the kind of money Wiviott is throwing around. And Lujan is unknown to the public so the negative has impact. We will take a final look at this one for you on Monday.


R' are an endangered species in the North, but former Domenici aide Marco Gonzales is up with a radio ad touting that experience and he was the first place finisher at the GOP preprimary nominating convention in March. The right to be the sacrificial lamb against the Dem nominee in the fall should be his. Rio Rancho contractor Dan East is also up with radio, but Gonzales has family roots in the area that could provide him insurance. Still, this is the North where polling can be perilous and voters sometimes inscrutable--even Republican voters.


That light turnout forecast, especially for the Dems, could play havoc with the consensus expectations Tuesday night. With that caveat we go out to the track.

The so-called progressive wing of the Dem party has unloaded on veteran ABQ SE Heights State Senator Shannon Robinson. Their vehicle has been political newcomer, 30 year old Tim Keller. Still, NM talk radio pioneer and longtime Democratic politico Mike Santullo is calling this one for Robinson. "It could be close, but the ethics charges against Shannon are flying right over the heads of the voters there. He has a populist reputation. He also has a pro-gun record which has played well in the district. The far-left kids and groups trying to unseat him have gone overboard." Analyzed Santullo who has been in the game here since '72.

The fact that the ABQ Journal ran a piece questioning the ethics of those accusing Shannon of ethical violations didn't hurt him either. Robinson also scored Keller in a hit piece for becoming a recent Democrat after first registering as an R. Keller's campaign has toted up a lot of endorsements, including the ABQ Journal. In my interview with him, Keller was bright and knowledgeable and he thinks he has the race in play. If he doesn't take it this time, we may see him again.


The progressives seem to have shifted most of their hopes onto the shoulders of Keller in the Robinson race. The ABQ Journal endorsement of Dem State Senator James Taylor over challenger Eric Griego took a lot of the wind out of Griego's sails. Again, the charge here has centered on ethics. Griego is a tireless campaigner, but Taylor's ties go deep--he served for years as a South Valley state rep before being appointed to the Senate seat by Big Bill. The newspaper endorsement was seen as ethical clearance by many voters. Griego knows how to get out the vote, so Taylor won't be napping over the weekend, just sleeping better.

John Blair
This has been a spirited Dem ABQ NE Heights State Senate primary featuring longtime politico Tim Eichenberg against newcomer, but politically experienced John Blair. Both have worked hard and the race is seen as a toss-up.

Eichenberg was Bernalillo County Treasurer way back in the 70's when I recall covering him as a radio reporter. He has worked hard in the community ever since. Blair is a lawyer who has worked with Senator Bingaman and is respected as a political consultant. His mother, Evelyn, is a friend of mine so we need to tread carefully here. Good luck to both contenders. But is Republican State Senator Diane Snyder really that vulnerable to either of these Dems in the fall? Whoever wins will have a lot of convincing to do.


This is another tricky one, but it is hard to take out an incumbent, and Lopez has awakened to the fact that she is in a real fight against businessman Michael Padilla. "I can't say who will win this one," analyzed Santullo who lives in the district. "Padilla has a shot, but Lopez did a negative mailer on him that could bring it over to her." That mailer centered on sexual harassment charges filed against Padilla when he worked for the city of ABQ. For her part, Lopez, as we have noted previously, has a poor record communicating. She also lost the endorsement of the Journal. This growing district isn't getting the energetic leadership that it needs. If nothing else, this race is a wake-up call for Linda.

Mike Santullo
This ABQ southwest state House race features veteran State Rep. Dan Silva and liberal Dem Eleanor Chavez. Silva mailed a negative hit on Chavez this week which she protested. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee has also enlisted the help of Governor Big Bill who has made robo calls into the district for Silva. Santullo, whose Westgate neighborhood is in the district, predicts Silva will pull it out. "In the last few weeks he has worked hard. He is not used to being challenged, but got with the program in time," he said.


Roswell GOP reformers think this is their best bet. They've have been tireless in going after Foley, the state House minority whip. They have even bought expensive ABQ TV time to get the message into the three county district--Lincoln, Chaves and Otero. Foley's opponent is retired FBI agent Dennis Kintigh who has been financed by R's who have been aching to get rid of Foley and his legislative ally State Senator "Lightning" Rod Adair who faces a stiff challenge of his own from former Chaves County Commissioner Rory McMinn. Foley is seen as the most vulnerable of the two, but McMinn is not to be counted out. These are key races we will watch closely for you on Election Night on KANW 89.1 FM in ABQ/Santa Fe and streamed on the net from this site.

Predictions are fun, but only that. Primaries are notorious for delivering upsets, so expect a couple come Tuesday.


Much has been made recently of the new consulting contract between Big Bill campaign manager and former Chief of Staff Dave Contarino and the health care company Value Options. Contarino is working to help them keep the estimated $300 million behavioral health contract with the state. Word now comes that another onetime close aide to Big Bill, Butch Maki, has been contracted by United Behavioral Health Services to try and wrestle that contract away from Value Options. Other competitors may emerge. Both Value Options and United Behavioral Health contributed generously to the Governor’s recent campaigns. The wall-leaners will definitely be watching this one.


Did you see that incredible video of an Albuquerque police officer attacking a news cameraman from KOB-TV? Mayor Chavez recently announced our city cops will be making at least $50,000 a year, and that's good. But taxpayers are not ready to pony up those big salaries if they are going to be treated to violent spectacles like this one. There's no way Chief Schultz or police department spokesman John Walsh, a former news reporter, are supportive of this kind of behavior. But because of the First Amendment implications, we and others are going to freak out as much as that cop if they and Mayor Chavez don't react strongly and discourage a repeat performance.


Stay with use for continuing coverage of Primary '08. Tonight (Friday) at 8 p.m. we will appear on KNME-TV to help analyze the Pearce-Wilson Senate debate that airs at 7 p.m. On Sunday we will be back here on the blog with analysis of the ABQ Journal US Senate poll.

Monday at 5 p.m. it's the KANW 89.1 FM Election Special. For a full hour we'll run down the key races with expert analysis from GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga, top NM lobbyist Scott Scanland, former NM Dem Party chairman John Wertheim and political strategist Heather Brewer. It's our tradition to have a real, live journalist join us on the pre-game show. This year that role will be filled by Trip Jennings, formerly of the ABQ Journal and now with the new on-line newspaper, the NM Independent.

On Tuesday, Election Night, we get the panel back together and add ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Lenton Malry to bring you wall-to-wall coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. We stay on the air as long as the Bernalillo County clerk is counting votes. We will file a complete blog wrap-up of the results, hopefully by 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Thursday, June 5th we'll analyze what's to come in Campaign '08 when we sit down at 9 a.m. with KKOB-AM radio host and political junkie Bob Clark.

Our 20th consecutive year of KANW election coverage is made possible by grants from Serrano & Sons, Construction, Ladera Golf and the Bill Campbell Agency--Realtors.

Thanks for your interest now and through the years. I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you from Albuquerque, NM.

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