Monday, September 21, 2009

Chavez Starts Working Over Berry: Fight For R Votes Shapes Contest, Plus: Di By The Numbers & Bill, Too; We Go In-Depth On The State's #1 And #2 

Looking to impede any surge to RJ Berry among ABQ's sizable Republican voting block, Mayor Marty Chavez is on the offensive, attacking Berry on several fronts, the most prominent being a mailer that questions Berry's honesty in how he portrays himself as a businessman.

The Chavez campaign got clever with their hit. They never mention their main point--that it is Berry's wife--Maria Medina--who is listed as sole owner of the family's Cumbre Construction and that it is her Hispanic heritage that makes possible the firm qualifying as a minority owned business and garnering millions in government contracts.

In fact, the hit piece never mentions Cumbre Construction. What the campaign does do is dig up a Public Regulation Commission record listing Berry, an ABQ state House representative, as owner of RJ Berry Enterprises, Inc. a company that has been inactive for ten years.

"...A construction company that hasn't built anything in over 10 years--No Sales, No Income, No employees, No Office...How can Berry claim to be a successful business owner when his business isn't doing any business?" Blasts the hit piece which can be fully viewed here.

On the campaign trail Berry cites Cumbre Construction as his main business activity. He does not mention the inactive company cited by Chavez. Berry describes Cumbre as "family owned." So is the candidate hiding behind his wife's skirts and acting with duplicity to qualify for big contracts as Chavez infers? His campaign was not commenting on Sunday, perhaps waiting to see if the hit piece gets any legs in the mainstream media.

On Feb. 24 of this year we first reported on how the Berry business was organized.

From 2000 to 2007 Berry's construction company was
awarded $48 million in Defense Department contracts for work at military bases including Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon. For example, in 2003, the company received $14 million for defense work; in 2006, $7 million. However, in 2007, that amount shriveled to $607,000. The business is classified as "Hispanic American" owned. The firm was recently ranked #465 on Hipsanic Magazine's list of the 500 largest US Hispanic owned companies.

Republican support for Chavez has been key in the mayor's three wins. Berry's campaign strategy seems focused on Republicans--getting them to vote in a block and getting Chavez below 40%, setting up a November run-off election between the two top vote-getters. Chavez's campaign says his mailer attacking Berry's business credentials was sent solely to Republican households.

Over the years, city Republicans have broken late in the cycle and usually for one of their own, but Chavez has always held on to his share. The ABQ Journal is in the field this week and will release a mayoral poll of Chavez, Berry and Dem Richard Romero this Sunday.


Chavez, saving the bulk of his $328,000 in public financing for a final stretch assault, is also working Berry over in a new radio spot. It featured Joey Sigala, president of the ABQ police Officers Association, who tackles Berry for saying that, under Chavez ABQ has become a "sanctuary city."

"Tel the Truth, RJ...You're misleading us on purpose...ABQ is not a sanctuary city..." smacks Sigala. APOA has endorsed Chavez.


Even as Chavez was warning R's in the ABQ NE Heights about Berry, he was taking a positive tack in trying to win their votes. He came with a mailer that said:

"Mayor Chavez has always stood up for the residents of the Northeast Heights and fought to make our neighborhoods safe and a great part of ABQ to live in!"

Again, the name of the game for Chavez is to prevent a waterfall defection of his R supporters to the Berry camp, increasing the odds of a dreaded run-off election.


That polling passed on to us last week gauging ABQ voter support for renewing the quarter cent tax for transit and road projects got sloppy in the translation. Approval in the survey of registered voters sponsored by a group supporting the tax was not running at 65%, but at 42%. Against was at 33%, with 25% undecided.

That's a different picture than first painted, but the salient point is that the tax, first approved for 10 years in 1999, is passing. Tonight the ABQ City Council will take up a resolution that would make clear that the tax, if renewed, would be for another ten year period and not be permanent. There has been no paid media opposing the tax and if none of significance surfaces, we expect the early polling showing it winning to play out on Election Night.


There is an air of inevitability about Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish securing the 2010 Democrat gubernatorial nomination, but not an air of invincibility. That take was reinforced over the weekend as the ABQ Journal came with its first poll of Denish in the 2010 cycle, pegging her statewide approval rating at 52%, but pointedly revealed that 28% of the state's voters either can't identify her or don't know enough about her to have an opinion.

It was the first nonpartisan public poling of Denish, 60, released since this Web site site--NM Politics With Joe Monahan--commissioned a professional poll of Denish in the state's two largest counties--Bernalillo and Dona Ana in October of 2008. It struck us that a year ago in our poll Denish's approval rating in big Bernalillo stood at 50.4% and 30% of the votes had no opinion of her. In other words, not much appears to have changed for Denish in building name ID in the past year, even as she has frenetically campaigned from Aztec to Anthony. Getting press and TV time remains the province of the state's #1--not #2-- and that's what ultimately moves the numbers--one way or another.

Di & Bill
That her approval rating mimics Big Bill's--he comes in at 51% in the Sept. 8 thru 10 poll--shows how closely voter perceptions of her remain tied to the performance of the Governor. She has work to do to carve out her own political identity before the Republicans do the job for her. But how far does Di need to stray? Her standing above the crucial 50% mark will likely keep her pace to separate herself from Richardson on a cautious course. She is also polling well with Hispanics, the nominating constituency of the Democratic party and one that has given her headaches in the past. She has to be heartened by that as she looks over her shoulder at any surprise Hispanic nominating challenge.


There is still talk of that Hispanic challenge of Denish for the Dem nod, but not with much urgency. State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has not helped himself with his Hamlet-like approach to the question. Insiders now say his best hope would be to put up his personal money--he's a successful attorney--to make the challenge. But there seems little enthusiasm for it within the party. Di's over 50% approval rating is going to make any opposition that more difficult and politically questionable. The question will linger until the end of the year.


Denish's approval rating signals to the R's that they will need a strong candidate to take her out. They will argue that Denish isn't going much above the 52% approval mark, that the 30% of the electorate undecided about her would likely split like those who have already formed an opinion. That means they need only drag her down a handful of points to get in contention. But they will need a candidate who appeals to the broad center to do it and that could well lead back to talk of getting ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson in the race. She is the candidate most feared by the Denish camp, which is fervently praying that the R's come with a candidate similar to that of John Dendahl who led the GOP disaster of 2006 when Richardson scored 69% against him--the largest Guv win in state history.

Denish has nearly $2 million in cash on hand. If she avoids a primary battle, as seems likely, most of that money will be available for the general election contest. It will be very expensive for any of the unknown GOP challengers to get known. The well-known Wilson could raise money quickly, if not in sums equal to Denish.


And the adventure continues for Bill Richardson. The guy performs worst when he is disengaged or bored, but give him something to fight for and look out. So it is with his latest climb back up the approval ratings ladder. And it is a climb. Remember, the Journal has not been polling for the past year, but SurveyUSA has and had the Guv reaching a low point of 42% earlier this year as the pay-to- play investigation dominated the headlines. That scandal forced Bill to withdraw his nomination to become Obama's Commerce Secretary.

(SurveyUSA also came with a late August poll that flew under our radar. It showed Bill getting 55% approval. Part of the survey was taken just as the news was being released that Richardson and his top aides would not face indictments in the CDR scandal.)

In the aftermath of his national humiliation the Guv got angry and depressed. Then he did what he does best--he started campaigning. A trip to Rome to see the Pope and statewide travel to promote the federal stimulus money were among the moves that made the 51% approval possible. Sure, that's down from his high point in the low 60's, but in this economic and political climate and after being written off for dead, it can be fairly labeled a political triumph. Pollster Brian Sanderoff noted that for any New Mexico governor to be above 50% after serving seven years in office is notable. No argument here.


The White House will now see that Richardson, whose name again is surfacing for a possible high-level appointment like envoy to Cuba, is back from the semi-dead. They will also see that while Denish is positioned, she is not yet a shoo-in to win this state that Obama wants in his column in 2012. That could make the political advisers think more about a scenario for appointing Richardson to a diplomatic post while he is still governor. That in turn would make Denish governor and put to rest the worry about whether she has a glass jaw.

The incumbency, even in troubled times such as these, would provide Di with a tremendous advantage going forward, especially against the current field of unknown GOP challengers. Surely, the shake-up scenario must look to the national Dem power brokers like a juicy peach ready to be picked. But anything involving Richardson comes with intrigue. That's why it's always interesting.

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