Friday, March 25, 2011

First Shots Fired: Sanchez Slams Heather As Relic Of Past; Game On For GOP Nomination For US Senate; Rivals Will Be At Tea Party Event This Weekend 

Sanchez vs. Wilson
It's game on for the 2012 Republican nomination for the US Senate. Lt. Governor John Sanchez went from putting his toe in the water to jumping in the lake as he slammed former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson as a relic of the past and began to position himself as the true conservative in the race:

Do they want a return back to the days of moderate-type leaders [whose] conservative compasses [weren’t] pointed in the right direction? Or are they looking for somebody who doesn't have to reinvent himself?...I think the choice for U.S. Senate is abundantly clear.

The battle for the GOP nomination will get up close and personal when Wilson and Sanchez appear this weekend at the same East Mountain Tea Party gathering. They will not face-off with one another there, but after Sanchez's tough talk to the Hill newspaper the tension between them should be thick enough to cut with a knife.

Wilson lost the 2008 US Senate nomination to conservative Rep. Steve Pearce. Now she will soon have a repeat battle on her hands as Sanchez says he will announce his plans "relatively soon."

There are not many centrists left in the nominating wing of the New Mexico GOP and that gives Sanchez an excellent opportunity. It is now do or die for Wilson, a former five term ABQ congresswoman. She will not be able to survive another political loss.

Sanchez, 48, elected lieutenant governor in November, has two statewide nomination wins under his belt. In 2002, he was the GOP candidate for governor and then there was last year's win for the Light Guv nod. Wilson has strength in ABQ, but has faltered in the conservative rural areas of the state. She faces the same scenario again if that vote begins to consolidate around Sanchez and the Light Guv relished piling on:

I know personally what it takes to win in a primary, unlike Heather Wilson, but also what it is to win in a statewide election, unlike Heather Wilson as well.
...I don't have to kind of reinvent myself during the primary season. I can talk honestly and sincerely about being a true conservative. For her to then somehow now in 2011 as she starts a new bid for the U.S. Senate, that she somehow wants to define herself as a fiscal conservative and that's just simply not the case...

Wilson held her fire, not responding to Sanchez. There will be more than a year to do that. However, a Wilson supporter we asked for a reaction unloaded both barrels:

John Sánchez has not Heather's intellect, has not her academic pedigree, has not her political acumen, has not her appeal to Hispanic veterans, and finally has not a professional or business background suitable for a US Senator from New Mexico. Otherwise he is an ideal candidate for the Neanderthal's of the Tea Party!

Sanchez, a roofing company owner, is already working to tap into the discontent that drives the Tea Party:

People in the state are looking for new ideas. They're not looking to return to policies of the past, and decisions and leaders that kind of got us into this mess in the first place.

Unlike earlier this month when Sanchez seemed to get ahead of himself in talking to the national press about when he would announce, there was no walking back these fighting words aimed at Wilson. He made the press rounds in DC while attending the national lieutenant governors conference. He says a visit with GOP senate committee officials will come later.

Why so tough on Heather this early? Sanchez knows the Wilson attack machine is coming. He wants to keep her negatives high and make sure she continues to be defined as "too moderate." If he can keep her penned in early, she won't be able to sprint away later, goes the thinking, even when she unloads on him.

One of our Democratic Alligators speculates that it could be more than that--that Sanchez is going for the early knock-out:

Sanchez certainly has a high opinion of himself. The more cocky he is and the more he goes after her, the better it is for Dems. I can just imagine the steam coming out of Wilson's ears at the moment. I wonder if he can rattle her enough to get her out? This should be fun to watch.

Is there a front-runner? Wilson will command the early polls because of superior name ID. History suggests Sanchez, as the insurgent candidate, would be expected to trail her throughout this year with a gradual tightening in the final weeks of the campaign a year from now.

As for the money, we may be looking at a $2 million budget or more for both major contenders. Sanchez is going to tap into national conservative money that is on the sidelines and ready to go against Wilson. He could also get oil money from SE New Mexico. She is going to go to her long-established donor list. Sanchez used mostly personal wealth to finance his Light Guv run.

(Two second-tier candidates--Greg Sowards and Bill English have also announced primary bids.)

Sanchez could start with a head of steam given the ardor of conservatives for a candidate they can fully embrace, but he will be challenged not to veer so far right that he becomes unelectable in the November election. To that end, he is giving the Tea Party a wink and a nod, but not dancing under their umbrella:

I don't necessarily need to be the Tea Party candidate," he said, noting he shares their values of "lower taxes, less government. If those are the values that I share with the members of the Tea Party, then so be it.

Wilson, 50, will argue that her moderate reputation makes her more viable for the general election win in centrist New Mexico. But she offered little red meat in her announcement speech and red meat is what these conservative dominated primaries are all about.


Sanchez getting into the Senate race will be awkward for Governor Martinez. She will most likely stay neutral, but a whole lot of attention is going to be on the lieutenant governor. Sharing the spotlight isn't going to be easy. And then there will be his positions on the issues that might not always dovetail with hers. That could also cause some discomfort.

My insiders and Alligators confirm the Martinez-Sanchez relationship remains on the rocks. He has not been let in on the early gubernatorial action. Wilson served as chair of Martinez's transition team while Sanchez was shunted aside.

Ironically, during the transition Martinez and her political team sent Sanchez out to the hinterlands on a "listening tour" as they kept him away from the main event. That tour, which produced more contacts for Sanchez, now looks like it will help the Light Guv in his Senate race.

Martinez's relationship with Wilson is also no bed of roses, according to insiders we quizzed. They say that's due to some clashes during the transition period.

Sanchez's pointed barbs against Wilson so early in the game reveal what a spirited race we are in for. Will the race be healthy for the R's or will it tear the party apart and pave the way for the Dems to maintain control of the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Bingaman?

That and many other questions come to mind as we hear the shuffling of the hooves at the starting gate for the 2012 race for the United States Senate.


A reader writes:

Joe, I can't believe no one in the press or blogs has picked up on the fact that the end of session filibuster by Senators John Ryan and "Lightning: Rod Adair killed Sen. Tim Eichenberg's tax lightning bill (it was up for concurrence in the Senate the last day). Given the thousands of Bernalillo County folks who now will continue to be stung by significantly higher property taxes then their neighbors, I would think this result would have merited some curiosity among you ink stained wretches.

Being a digitally stained wretch, we cant speak for those of the ink stained variety, but our reader is correct that this was a major casualty of the session. The bill would have put a cap on the amount a home's property tax was permitted to increase when it was sold. Ryan and Adair both favored the measure, but in their zealousness to force a Senate vote on one of the Governor's education planks, they filibustered the final hour.

Governor Martinez could consider putting the tax lightning bill on the agenda for the special redistricting session this fall.

Another tax item we blogged on--GOP Senator Ingle's proposal to
extend a tax break for construction at Cannon Air Force Base--also failed to pass the Legislature.


From Conan O'Brien:

They announced the initial name of the US military action in Libya. And it's called 'Odyssey Dawn.'" It is the "first military action ever to be named by Crabtree & Evelyn.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. Interested in advertising here? Drop us a line.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign