Monday, May 17, 2010

The Susana Surge: A Look At The "New" GOP Race For Governor From Top To Bottom; Battle For Nomination Grabs Spotlight; Weh Starts Negative Hits 

Susana & Sarah
Has Allen Weh hit the wall? Will the Susana Surge subside? Those were the key questions on the minds of the now fully engaged Alligators, analysts, wall-leaners and insiders as they appraised the fast moving weekend action in the 2010 GOP Guv primary. They turned nearly giddy over the closeness of this thing. Everyone has been hankering for a race and now that we've got one, the cell phones and Blackberrys are finally humming again.

And it took only hours for Allen Weh, an independently wealthy businessman and former NM GOP chairman, to take notice. Ahead by only one point in Sunday's ABQ Journal poll (31% to Martinez's 30) his campaign wasted no time in launching the first negative volley of this five way race, violating Republican Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, but signaling that the nomination will have to be fought--not just bought:

Clearly this is a two person race,” said Whitney Cheshire, campaign manager for Allen Weh. “Voters are deciding between a government lawyer, and a job-creator who has built a successful business.”

Maybe that's okay for starters, but insiders think Martinez may have jumped five points over the weekend based on the Journal poll and the Palin endorsement. Weh may have to come with stronger stuff if he is to tarnish the halo that is starting to be placed on the diminutive yet feisty DA. But....

Weh is now in precarious territory. He has to fight his way forward while firing off shots at Martinez, but any one of those shots that miss could trigger land mines that could blow up in his face. Campaign insiders say Martinez's favorable rating is higher than Weh's. That's another factor he has to weigh as he prepares to go nuclear.

Meanwhile, the Weh hit did not go unnoticed in the Martinez camp with an operative pushing back with this:

A party boss and government contractor wants to debate records. Really?

Weh did his best to put a smiley face on that Journal poll showing him barely ahead of Martinez. He came with an email missive exclaiming: “We’re in the lead!”

But the Alligators were on the loose and pointing out that Weh has loaned his campaign one million bucks. "What's that? A one point lead for each million you spend?" Jived one of the Gators.

Nothing personal, Allen. It's just business.


Senior Alligators here say neither Weh or Martinez are likely to get too personal. They will leave it to their surrogates. And in that regard the Dona Ana County DA may have an advantage. She has a stable of state legislators who have endorsed her candidacy. That is now a full bench of credible spokesmen for the local newspapers to quote as they answer any of Allen's attacks on Susana and as they fire off some of their own. Martinez may not have Weh's personal cash, but she has troops on the ground and she could also use them on the TV air.

And if you're wondering why so may legislators have endorsed Martinez, well, let's think ahead. In 2011, the Legislature will redraw state legislative districts, a bill that will have to be signed by the new governor. Legislators agree with the analysts that the R's best bet against Dem Diane Denish in the fall is Martinez--not Weh--and they can be said to be endorsing Martinez out of self-preservation as much as anything else.


Weh has spent good money on TV. Has he hit the wall or will another $250,000 or more make a difference? If he wants to win, he has little choice but to ante up. He has to believe it will work. Our media mavens report Martinez has booked nearly $100,000 of TV time for this week, assuming it all runs. That means Weh may have to go to $150,000.

Martinez does not need to out spend Weh or even match him on the tube. Now that she has Big Mo, she just needs to stay in the neighborhood and continue her final push into the metro area that she began with the Palin visit. (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance counties will make up about 45% of the primary vote.)


In our special Sunday blog we mentioned that it appeared state government corruption is the top issue among NM Republicans. But in the Journal poll released today, it ranks fourth , behind budget deficits, the weak economy and unemployment. Still, pollster Sanderoff said he has never seen the issue rank that high. That explains, in part, the appeal of Susana Martinez's TV spots which have focused almost exclusively on the corruption issue.


Of the four Weh challengers, Martinez has emerged as the new, fresh face at a time when voters of all stripes are sick of incumbents. Veteran marketers will tell you that the "new" brand usually sells the best. Weh is going to have to start convincing voters that Martinez, a DA for 12 years, is old wine but in a brand new bottle.


Our readers hungered for more cross tabs from the ABQ Journal poll. Veteran Pollster Brian Sanderoff obliged:

Weh is ahead by 4 points among seniors. Undecideds are about the same in Bernalillo County as they are statewide.

The most interesting demographic variance was on educational attainment. Susana has a comfortable lead among those with a college degree or graduate degree whereas Alan is doing best among those with a high school degree or less and those with some college. Typically those with some college (i.e. Associates Degree or professional blue collar license) tend to be quite conservative.

Sanderoff earlier told the paper that Martinez and Weh both received 31 percent support from men and that women were about evenly split among the two. Martinez carried Hispanics with 41 percent to Weh's 28. About 15 percent of the state GOP is Hispanic.


Veteran Republican analyst Greg Payne said he may have jumped the gun when he said on the blog that Martinez needed to attack Weh the first weekend of May. He was surprised by the Susanna surge but it explains whey she held off on going after Weh and now the tables are turned, with Allen having to start the air war. Payne, like everyone else, is waiting for the next 72 hours to unfold to see if the race remains a nail-biter or one of the candidates breaks free. Of course, Payne had it right when he said someone was going to have to attack someone and end one of the longest truces we've ever seen in a contested GOP primary.


Overall, the Sunday visit of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a boost for Martinez in the GOP primary, but Palin's handlers let her answer one question from TV reporters that revealed the baggage she carried into moderate New Mexico. She gave a full-throated endorsement of the hyper-controversial Arizona immigration law. Martinez has not given her full backing to the law, perhaps mindful of polls showing 70 percent of Hispanics oppose the measure.

The Palin statement may not be a big problem in the conservative primary, but if Martinez takes the nomination, the Dems will be sure to add it to their list when, in October, they paint Martinez as "a Palin Republican."

TV news said Palin drew around 1,000 to the ABQ Marriott. The story led the early evening news broadcasts and was also on the 10 p.m news, along with that poll showing Martinez nipping at Weh's heels.

Palin is not a general election play. The latest polling shows her favorability among Republicans to be only 45%, with a decidedly negative view when all voters are counted.

But in a five way race in a conservative dominated party, the Palin play delivers. Not that Martinez was always on board with a Palin endorsement. When Palin was here last year to promote her book in Roswell, the Democratic Party points out Martinez said she would not seek Palin's endorsement. Well, times change. Don't they?


The WaPo explains the Martinez endorsement by Palin is part of the 2008 GOP VP nominee's plan for the 2012 presidential race:

Sarah Palin appears to be building a pack of "mama grizzlies" in the 2010 elections that could send a powerful political message if she decides to run for president in 2012.

Martinez a "mama grizzly?" Only when Allen Weh is trying to steal her honey jar.


Republicans are still showing their traditional paranoia toward what they consider "the liberal media." Two news staffers--one from KOAT-TV and another from KRQE-TV-- were highly critical of Martinez's refusal to take questions at the Sarah Palin endorsement announcement. No wonder. They were invited to this "press event" but then stiff-armed by the Martinez camp. Allen Weh also did not make himself available to KRQE Sunday for an interview about the Journal poll.

These are newbie candidates and their handlers may be over protective, but the press and the bloggers are going to come down on the eventual GOP nominee like a ton of bricks if they keep it up. But that's the least of their problems. We're sure Diane Denish will find a way to make the R nominee talk, even if the press is stymied.


What does Doug Turner do after a disappointing 6% showing in the Journal poll? He still has a couple of hundred thousand in his bank account that he could use to exert influence. And right now the Martinez camp may want to keep an eye on the deck Doug will deal from.

On Friday Turner sent out a notice to his supporters that he had been the victim of dirty tricks and his campaign believes it is coming from the Martinez camp. Said Turner:

...One of my opponents has enlisted the services of an anonymous auto-dial telephone service to make outrageous and false suggestions about me. This is a tactic right out of the dirty politics playbook and we must not stand for it. Anonymous push-polls are cowardly and reflect an attitude of the candidate behind them that they will carry with them in to office...

The Martinez camp will disavow any knowledge of that gambit, but if Turner decides to get aggressive with his money on TV, even with the odds stacked against him, it could hurt Susana's momentum in big Bernalillo County and help Allen Weh because it appears Susana and Doug are indeed trolling for similar voters.

One other note. Doug's embrace of his old boss, ex-Governor Gary Johnson, has not helped his cause.


The candidacy of Pete Domenici Jr. turns out to have been a misstep. A good lawyer does not necessarily make for a good candidate. Domenici, 50, son of retired US Senator Pete Domenici, polled only 10% in Sunday's survey, signaling an end to the Domenici era which began when his dad was elected to the ABQ city commission in 1966.

Domenici the younger has carved out a good reputation as an attorney, but his skills as a politician were scarce. His father started out as an attorney in 1958 and parlayed that into a storied political career, but there won't be a "Re-Pete."


You knew one thing for sure--the ABQ Journal was not about to endorse Dem Light Guv contender Brian Colon. Not after Colon's involvement with the fund-raising efforts of Big Bill which the paper has gone after in recent years. So the endorsement went to Lawrence Rael, who has endured his share of criticism from the paper, but mainly on a local level while serving as ABQ's chief administrative officer.

In the GOP Light Guv primary, the Journal gave its editorial nod to ABQ state Senator Kent Cravens. John Sanchez is widely seen as the front-runner in that race which also features Clayton's Brian Moore.

By the way, our Alligators say Sanchez was the only one of the GOP Light Guv contenders not to appear at the Sarah Palin event where Martinez was endorsed.


GOP Light Guv candidate Brian Moore joins rival John Sanchez on the air with this TV spot. It's well-done, emphasizing the conservative values of the former Clayton area state rep. But Moore has been heavily outspent by Sanchez who is dominating this race with heavy TV. ABQ State Senator Kent Cravens is doing radio.

Analysts think Moore would balance the GOP ticket nicely with any of the Guv contenders, as none of them hail from the east side. But Moore may have underestimated the money he needed to challenge Sanchez.

Back on the Dem Light Guv side, syndicated columnist Jay Miller says Campos is the best candidate for the Dems this year:

The candidate with the best ticket-balancing argument is Rep. Joe Campos of Santa Rosa. Denish likes to talk about her Hobbs roots, but a running mate who has spent his life in rural New Mexico would be a help to her...Campos has another advantage: He is not close to Gov. Bill Richardson.

Some good points there, Jay.

Fabian Chavez
Political legend Fabian Chavez is urging Dems to make Joe Campos their Light Guv nominee. The 85 year old former state Senator and Dem Guv nominee in the 60's, says:

I know from my time in the legislature, there are followers and there are leaders in the legislature. Jose is a leader, a bold leader, who will fight for the people's causes even when it is unpopular among the rank and file politicians. Jose Campos is an intelligent, honest candidate without ties to ‘pay to play’ politicians.

Campos placed third in the New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan poll conducted last Wednesday, garnering 12.9 percent. However, he was nearly tied with front runner Brian Colón among Hispanic voters. Chavez is a native of Santa Fe.


If Dennis Montoya is suspended from practicing law as the state Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board asked Friday, NM Court of Appeals Judge Linda Vanzi would be the only legally qualified candidate on the June 1 primary ballot for the seat she now holds. You must be an attorney to be an appeals court judge.

Montoya is charged with multiple counts of professional misconduct. He has been locked in a tense primary contest with Vanzi. Our recent scientific poll of the race showed Vanzi with a lead over Montoya. Vanzi was chosen by 38.7%. Montoya received 26.5%. About 35% of the voters were Undecided.

Montoya would stay on the ballot even if the Supreme Court suspended hm from practicing law, but one would think the resulting publicity would give Vanzi the victory.


ABQ Metro Court Judge Victoria Grant is gone. The Supreme Court allowed her to retire after a slew of judicial misconduct charges had been filed against her. The charges had been kept secret even as Grant was allowed to collect her pay while on suspension.

The secrecy ended Friday when the speculation of our Legal Beagles here was confirmed. Grant was being investigated for giving jail time beyond the maximum time allowed and denying defendants the right to represent themselves in court, among other things.

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