Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Southern Shake-Up: Tinsley & Teague Get New Managers, Plus: Senate Debate Action, Negative Radio On Udall, Gators Still Hunting Jimenez, And Even More 

Teague & Tinsley
Summer shake-ups at the top of the campaigns of the two southern NM congressional candidates as they prepare for the big push to November. A spokesman for Democrat Harry Teague's campaign confirms that the position of campaign manager opened up this month as Brad Foster was let go after "differences in direction." Foster came in from Virginia. He said he departs Teague with "no hard feelings." The spokesman says the search is on for a new manager and there are several candidates under consideration.

Teague's campaign momentum was seen as being slowed by the June 3 primary results in which he beat challenger Bill McCamley by only a slim margin--52% to 48%, after he spent nearly $800,000 of his personal oil fortune. The campaign spins that Teague's win was actually healthy because McCamley had a poll in May that showed McCamley significantly ahead. But most insiders are giving the early edge in the race to Lincoln County rancher Ed Tinsley, pointing out the GOP has held the district since 1981.

Meanwhile, Tinsley is also doing some shaking up. Campaign manager Grant Hewitt is now deputy campaign manager and Chris Collins, who managed Heather Wilson's unsuccessful run for the GOP US Senate nomination, has been named Tinsley's manager.

Collins, a lawyer, has served as a legislative assistant to Senator Pete Domenici since 2002. Insiders say his presence on the campaign brings Tinsley's campaign closer into the orbit of the Republican National Committee. In fact, my experts say both southern US House candidates are preparing themselves for more involvement in their campaigns by the national parties in D.C. That's where a lot of the money for these contests is generated.


The ABQ Journal Tuesday followed up on our report of the recent shake-up in the campaign of GOP US Senate candidate Steve Pearce and it resulted in some confusion. A spokesman told the paper that Pearce chief of staff Bob Carter was now campaign manager, but the manager is actually John Billingsley of Lincoln County who also managed the Pearce primary effort. Carter has the title of "campaign director." The campaign issued a correction.

This was all of interest because of our recent report on the short lived stint of Tom Carroll as Pearce's campaign manager. He lasted less than two weeks after differences developed between him and other Pearce operatives. The question was who would replace Carroll. The answer is Billingsley. The back and forth had a Udall operative ribbing her rival: "Who is running that campaign?" She asked.


Dem US Senate candidate Tom Udall went on the offensive Tuesday on a perennial campaign issue--debates. Udall's camp, somewhat on the defensive after turning down a joint appearance with Republican nominee Steve Pearce before the NM Farm Bureau and rejecting Pearce's call for a summer debate on energy, proposed Tuesday that there be three televised debates--all of them after Labor Day. Pearce's campaign quickly agreed, but saw the move as a way for Udall to continue to avoid joint appearances with Pearce until September. A Pearce spokesman said he did not expect Udall to agree to any joint appearances like the one proposed by the Farm Bureau until after Labor Day and wondered aloud if there would be many of those.

By proposing the TV debates, Udall hopes to put the summer debate issue to rest, denying Pearce an opportunity to interrupt his momentum. And it cost him nothing to propose three TV debates. Why? The Big Three stations are all likely to offer debate time, an offer that neither campaign would be able to turn down. (KOAT is offering October 26 debate time. Pearce has accepted. Ironically, Udall, who is calling for the debates, is wrangling with the station over details, according to the ABQ Journal.)

As for those TV clashes, neutral observers are again reminding the ABQ TV stations that up to 60% of the vote will be cast before the actual Election Day. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver says the first absentee ballots will be mailed out October 7 and that the first day of early voting at satellite locations begins October 18.

If the three major ABQ network affiliates jam all the debates in the final 10 days of the campaign, thousands of voters will not have the chance to see the two Senate contenders before they cast ballots. At least one debate is needed before October 18th. The TV stations ought to work together--in the public interest---to insure the debates reach as many potential voters as possible, not those who have already voted. We have our fingers crossed.


One of the first negative paid media volleys has been fired in the US Senate race. A group calling itself the "American Energy Alliance" has hit the airwaves of KKOB-AM radio with a sixty second spot attacking Tom Udall saying he is against "expanding energy exploration." They urge voters to call Udall's office and ask him to support more oil drilling. We blogged yesterday that Steve Pearce's first TV ads are expected in two weeks and that one of them will focus on Udall and the drilling issue. Third party groups advertising for and against Pearce and Udall are expected to be a major presence on the airwaves here in the months ahead.


The one danger Udall faces is overconfidence. There is a whiff of hubris among some of his supporters as he trounces Pearce in all the polling, but political pros are not among them. They believe this race will get closer. How much is the question. Maybe top Democrats in Washington agree. Why else would they announce they are spending valuable campaign cash from the Dem Senate campaign committee to launch NM TV ads on behalf of Udall?

Yes, Udall had nearly $3 million in the bank recently and is way ahead in all the surveys. But what if wealthy Pearce starts to close and then writes a personal check for big dollars? The liberals and progressives who think Tom has this one in the bag have good reason to think that, but those who are responsible for bringing the race home cannot afford to act like it. A TV buy from the national D's even for an already well-funded Udall seems prudent in a Democratic state in which the R's still control the majority of the congressional seats.


The arguing over whether we have had our first flip-flop in the Darren White-Martin Heinrich ABQ congressional contest also centers on that hot button issue of oil drilling. KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson was alerted to the Tuesday morning ABQ Journal in which Dem Heinrich says he supports off-shore oil drilling, a position that seemed to be at variance with what Heinrich's campaign told Dyson last week. Here's the latest.

The Alligators are getting ready to gloat. They had us blogging that Big Bill Chief of Staff James Jimenez would be leaving his post, possibly to take a job in Rio Rancho, but the Guv's office, responding to an ABQ Journal follow-up, knocked down the report. But lo and behold, on Tuesday it was announced that the current city manager of Rio Rancho is resigning. And who is the top name under consideration to replace him? It's none other than James Jimenez.

A Senior Alligator blogged here again Monday that Jimenez was headed to the exits, likely to be replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Condit. Reacting to the Rio Rancho news, he stuck with his prognostication that Jimenez will be announced as the new city manager of Rio Rancho as soon as August 6.

State Rep. Tom Swisstack has once again assumed the mayor's' position in the city and he and Jimenez have a history. In 1995, Jimenez was named finance director for the City of Rio Rancho, a position he held for 3 1/2 years while Swisstack was serving his first term.

For our new readers, "Alligator" is the name we apply to our top-level and highly-experienced political sources who we rely on to help bring you the inside story of our beloved La Politica. They have many of the characteristics of real, live Alligators--quick to pounce and devotees of the hunt. They are closing in on their prey with this story.

Ben Ray
A campaign operative for northern Dem congressional nominee Ben Ray Lujan says the campaign is hopeful that Lujan's chief rival in the June primary, Santa Fe developer Don Wiviott, will endorse Lujan. Wiviott did not immediately call Lujan to congratulate him on the win, but the operative confirmed that eventually he did call and the conversation between the two Democrats was "conciliatory."

Wiviott and Lujan were the leading candidates in the race which Lujan won in a landslide, despite Wiviott spending some $1.4 million from his personal fortune. While Lujan and Wiviott make the peace, there is still bitterness toward certain Wiviott staffers by Lujan and his powerful father, NM House Speaker Ben Lujan. They think those staffers went over the line in attacking Lujan the Younger.

Keep us posted. E-mail your news and comments.

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