Tuesday, October 21, 2008

T-Minus Two Weeks: Grizzled Vets Take Stock Of Key Races, Plus: CNN: McCain Camp Says NM "Gone"; Also: GOP Rules Battle & Ben Ray TV 

Wertheim & Rep. Larranaga
John McCain is a man fond of surges and according to veteran New Mexican political analysts it is only the slim possibility of a noteworthy McCain southern surge that stands as the lone obstacle to Barack Obama claiming the state's five electoral votes.

"Going in, the main worry was the Hispanic vote, but support among Hispanics for Obama seems solid to me. He is going to deliver, and therefore take the state," declared former NM Democratic Party chairman ('04-'07) and 1996 ABQ congressional candidate John Wertheim.

Wertheim's take is backed up by the Obama camp. They feel the deal is sealed in the Spanish North and are sending Hillary Clinton south on Saturday. That is on the heels of a Las Cruces visit by VP candidate Joe Biden. Obama himself will make one more stop in NM prior to Election Day. However, that visit could very likely be ABQ, the state's media and population center where the Illinois Senator could put away the race by carrying Bernalillo County by an insurmountable margin of 20,000 or more votes.

State Democrats were pushing a CNN report Monday quoting top McCain officials as saying, "New Mexico and Iowa are gone. They are now off the dream list of the McCain campaign."

But even as that word circulated, the McCain campaign was weighing a Saturday McCain visit to Mesilla, in Dona Ana County in the south, where Joe Biden recently campaigned. They point the plane according to the polls, so the numbers there must be showing some chance of a southern surge for McCain, but he could also be working to save the congressional campaign of Ed Tinsley, who can't afford to get wiped out there. Whatever the case, NM is still a hotbed of presidential campaign activity.

And listen to this: So far, in the early voting at polling stations in big Bernalillo County, Dems have cast 8,266 votes, compared to 2,756 for the R's. That's an early sign that the Obama GOTV machine is on the move and proof of heavy early turnout. Also, 77,153 absentee ballots have been requested here, about 38,000 of them for Democrats, 28,600 for R's and about 10,000 for independents. Clearly, the Dems are on the march. That is a high rate of Dem absentees, about 50%. KUNM-FM radio reporter Jim Williams has a report on the first day of Santa Fe and Bernalillo County early voting.

The poll of polls has Obama leading McCain in NM by 8.4 percent. Such a win would represent a 70,000 vote margin over McCain based on a turnout of 72% of registered voters. Not many are expecting such a margin, with a three to five point win seeming to be the conventional wisdom. We'll keep updating.

Wertheim, an original Hillary man, now an Obama believer, feels only a violent change in the national political climate will now deny Obama in NM. But GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin's Sunday visit which drew over 10,000 in Roswell did momentarily send shivers down Democratic spines. It was the bedrock GOP base saying we are still here and voting and it brought back nightmarish memories for the Dems.

The conservative and rural south was the key to Bush's nearly 6,000 vote victory over Kerry four years ago, but Obama is not ceding territory as Kerry did. Even though there is a real chance for him to blow the doors off in Bernalillo, his insurance policy is to keep McCain from having the south rise again.


Wertheim, whose wife Biana Ortiz Wertheim works under ABQ Mayor Chavez, has a special interest in and knowledge of the races for Congress. The Santa Fe native told us in a wide-ranging phone session surveying the entire state that this is finally the year the Democrats will break through and take the ABQ seat.

"Darren White has run a very disappointing campaign. Martin (Heinrich) has been very impressive with his fundraising and the national Democrats have done a good job managing his campaign. He has had the sense to play to the favorable climate. I think he will take it by two points or more," predicted the 40 year old attorney, not without a twinge of wistfulness for what could have been for himself those many years ago.

Based on a projected turnout of about 300,000, a two point win would give Dem Heinrich a 6,000 vote margin. It would be the Dems first ever win since the district's creation in 1968, and set off near delirious Election Night celebrating as the state's majority party finally claimed their political Holy Grail.

Dem expert Wertheim did not predict a victory for Democrat Harry Teague in the conservative southern district, but he said he thought Republican Ed Tinsley had not run an effective campaign and that now only historic trends stand between Teague and a seat in the United States Congress.


We hadn't checked in with Wertheim since he provided analysis for our KANW 89.1 FM primary election coverage. The conversation prompted us to check in with another veteran of La Politica who we trust to have a level head in the frenzied and highly partisan final days of a major campaign. ABQ GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga confirmed the R's worry over White.

"His campaign has just not clicked and we are concerned. There is still time, but this is a race many of us did not foresee," analyzed the veteran lawmaker, who along with Wertheim will be back on KANW to provided Election Night analysis as we mark out 20th anniversary of calling elections for the public radio station.

Larranaga, a conservative, but with a reputation for bipartisanship, said he is more confident about the fate of the Republican in the most-watched NM state Senate race this cycle. Much of his House district overlaps the Senate district of two term incumbent Diane Snyder. He says there have been several effective hit pieces mailed by Snyder and R's into the district and he thinks it has halted the momentum of Democrat Tim Eichenberg.

"It's true that negative campaigning works, and it seems to be working. I think she can pull it out," opined Larranaga, a retired engineer.

Eichenberg released a poll several weeks ago showing him ahead, and those numbers were confirmed by the Republicans. But Snyder has raised over $80,000 and is fighting for her life. Still, Eichenberg has the help of top Dem operatives. State Senate leader Michael Sanchez has kicked in a $1000 to help. This is a race that won't got away.


The ABQ congressional race moves front and center this week with two televised debates. The first will be Wednesday night at 7 on KOB-TV and the second will be at 7 p.m. Thursday on KNME-TV. Heinrich and White have rarely been seen together during their nearly year long campaigns, so the appearances are anticipated.


Will voters in an economic climate like this vote to raise their taxes to finance the Rail Runner commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe? Supporters are concerned. Tax foes are firing. They also not the plunge in pump prices, with gasoline now well below $3 a gallon and perhaps lessening concern over transportation. If the tax fails, the Rail Runner will have to get money from the state and/or federal coffers, both under immense pressure because of the recession.


We told you about ABQ GOP attorney Pat Rogers rattling the cage again last week over possible voter fraud in NM, even as he and others are under investigation by the US Justice Department for their role in the US attorney scandal here. There is way too much to go into here, but the national liberal Web site Talking Points Memo gives a rundown on Rogers and the R's and their NM vote fraud charges.

We are neutral, but isn't it incumbent on those saying there is fraudulent voting, not just fraudulent registrations, to produce the evidence? The personable Rogers and ABQ GOP State Rep. Justine Fox-Young indicated they had evidence, but now it and they look flimsy.

Jon Barela
Speaking of the R's, the state GOP rules committee has set a meeting for today to talk about whether NM GOP Vice-Chair Jon Barela, a possible candidate to replace Allen Weh as state chairman in January, violated party rules when he competed for a position on the ABQ school board. Some rules members say Barela should step down as vice-chair because other R's applied for the school board post. They say state rules say any time a state party official is in a contested political race with a fellow R, they must step down from their party post. But Barela's supporters say seeking a school board appointment is not equivalent to a partisan political campaign.

Would Barela try to keep his new appointed position on the school board--he must seek election to the nonpartisan position in February--as well as become state chairman of the party? Seems like a stretch, but foes of the GOP faction Barela is aligned with aim to cut him off at the pass. Stay tuned.


Northern congressional candidate Ben Ray Lujan finally came with his TV buy as some Dems fret that he should have been on earlier. But Lujan raised less than $400,000 in the July quarter. He is not known as one who enjoys hitting up donors. To give his campaign a boost, we are told the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will come with TV money for the final stretch. As a Hispanic, the Obama campaign is hoping Lujan will drive more Hispanics to the polls, but he has to excite the base to do it. The TV buy should help. Lujan has to worry about a Dem primary challenge in 2010 if he doesn't come in with an impressive victory in the heavy Dem district. His challengers this year are independent Carol Miller and Republican Dan East. Neither have announced TV buys.

Lujan's first spot hits generically popular Dem issues--alternative energy, health care and ending the Iraq war. He is also back on his horse as he was in the primary in a nod to the rural nature of the district.


More Jerome Block, Jr. problems? This is a candidate who would give aspirin a headache, not to mention state Democrats who are going to have their hands full if Block wins the northern Public Regulation Commission seat...Also from the north, comes word that 92 year old Dem political legend Emilio Naranajo is hospitalized...

The video from our recent interview with the PBS NewsHour and Judy Woodruff has now been posted. The program spent a week in the state examining our politics...And here's the League of Women Voters Guide, worth checking out before heading to the polls...Our Web site address is: www.joemonahan.com. Please pass it on to those who might find it of interest.

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