Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Heather Is First Heavy In GOP Senate Race; Who's Next And When? We Go Long And Deep On Race Outlook, Plus: Roundhouse Musings 

Heather Wilson put her old band back together Monday, playing a familiar tune that had them dancing in ABQ but still sitting in their seats elsewhere around the state. Rather than clearing the dance floor, her entry into the race for the 2012 GOP US Senate nomination may have emboldened the party's substantial conservative wing to find an alternative. Republican insiders said she offered little in her speech or in the personalities on stage with her to placate the GOP majority who rejected her first Senate candidacy in 2008.

Complete video of Wilson announcement event as videotaped by the Tea Party is here. The Wilson announcement release with legislative and other endorsements is here.

Wilson plucked from obscurity Bill Redmond, the conservative minister who won one term in the US House from the north in a fluke election in the 90's, to warm up the crowd of 100. He hummed the conservative tune for Heather, but seemed like an odd voice in the choir, surrounded as he was by party establishment types from decades gone by--Senator Domenici, former Congressman Lujan and former GOP party chair and 2010 Guv candidate Allen Weh.

The heavy ABQ presence highlighted Wilson's metro support, but also laid bare her continued problems in rural New Mexico.

The most notable name absent from Heather's dance card was that of her archrival GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce, the man who crashed her symphony in 2008, beating her for that year's US Senate nomination in a vicious brawl that left both combatants reeling. Here was Steve getting ready for a rematch--not with him in the race--but with a surrogate challenger:

If she announces, I will simply take note of it. It’s not going to cause me to move forward. We have a lot of time for the party to come together behind a candidate. Let’s evaluate our potential. Let’s evaluate the opportunities and the threats, and let’s do the best we can to get that seat. If we’re going to have a free for all, it’ll look very similar to what it did two years ago.

As for going on a suicide bomber mission and giving up his southern House seat to thwart Heather, Pearce, kept the threat alive:

The filing deadline is still nine months away, and I have plenty of time to make decisions. I’ll reach out to my supporters, but now, for New Mexicans, the stakes are higher than personal ambition.

But the smart money is still betting that Pearce and other conservatives dissatisfied with Wilson's ways continue to look to Lt. Governor John Sanchez to utter some soothing sounds about getting in the game.

And if you're Sanchez, what's not to like? National conservatives could easily raise on the Internet much of the $2 million or so a competitive GOP Senate race will take. For good measure, throw in conservative third party advertising like the Club for Growth did against Heather in '08. And remember, Sanchez continues to be Lt. Guv even if he were to lose to Heather in June 2012.


Among those on the stage for Heather's afternoon ABQ announcement was former ABQ GOP State Rep. and 2010 GOP Guv hopeful Janice Arnold-Jones. The Alligators said that could be a signal that Heather will play nice with Janice if she seeks the GOP nomination for the US House seat if, as expected, Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich vacates it to make his own run at the Senate seat that Jeff Bingaman is giving up after five terms.

Janice's presence also raised the issue of hot-button GOP consultant Jay McCleskey who handled Governor Martinez's campaign and in the past has been an ally of Wilson, but who has not been a welcome sight in Janice's neighborhood. Insiders say McCleskey and company have not signed with Heather and are not expected to. It will be closely watched as we are still over a year away from the GOP pre-primary convention. But McCleskey has plenty to do with his number one client--Vice-President...err..Governor Martinez.

Meanwhile, McCleskey launched a website for his new firm--McCleskey Media Strategies.


Heather had excellent pre-publicity on her announcement, leaking it first to the national press which hit it heavy all weekend as did the local press and TV news. You could not get much more milk out of the cow than that. She topped it off Monday with the formal declaration. Coverage was more cursory Monday as other news dominated.

TV news also mentioned the possible Sanchez candidacy through the weekend and into Monday.


Wilson's longtime mentor, former GOP US Senator Pete Domenici, did the formal introduction (and endorsement) of her. In '08, he waited until the last minute to give her his blessing. Domenici has been out of power since then, so his stroke is less. He gave birth to Wilson's political career in 1997.

Wilson said about half the GOP caucuses of the state House and Senate support her. They listed the names in the release we posted above. What about the other half? Well, you've heard of keeping your ammo dry. Wilson also came with her website--heatherwilson.org.


Wilson is 50 and had a bout with a highly treatable form of cancer. She looks her years, but not older. She wore a TV friendly blues dress sans the jewelry. The hair dresser went to work on the gray. Her voice today seems a bit lower than the already low pitch we've all grown accustomed to. And she has not shed her habit of getting emotional. She choked up when she talked about the service of veterans. Accompanied by Domenici, nearly 79, she looked the part of a daughter, but that's how it has always been between those two.


John Sanchez has personal wealth from his roofing business and the probable assistance of national conservatives to fill a campaign kitty. Heather has neither, but she does have contacts in the military-industrial complex which will be the first to get her phone calls. But with Domenici out of power, she has to be concerned about hitting her numbers. Her first campaign finance report will be due at the end of March.


How does the Governor feel about her Light Guv possibly running for Senate? No one has asked her yet. Will she try to keep him out? He is not aligned with her campaign arm. Their relationship is not known to be warm. Does Sanchez have the backbone to resist the pressures that will now build to keep him out? It's all part of the test of ascending the political ladder.


Things being the way they are these days, the national Dems were on the campaign trail bashing Heather even before she had the chance to formally yell, "I'm a real conservative, really!" They came with this hit video.


Heather's nomination problems were highlighted immediately as reaction to her entry into the race was decidedly mixed on the airwaves of ABQ conservative talk radio KKOB-AM, usually friendly ground for Wilson who served ten years in the US House from ABQ.

Host Jim Villanucci is in her corner, but Tea Party type callers could not be pacified and hammered Wilson over her votes to increase the national debt and for the big bank bailout of 2008 which Pearce voted against. She deftly dodged a question on whether she supported the controversial Arizona anti-immigration law.


The bottom line to Heather's big day was pretty much the same as the day before. If no big name challenger emerges to challenge her on the right, the nomination is hers. But nominations for open seats in the US Senate are rarely given away. That is especially so in this era of economic turmoil which has fostered a Republican Party that is more conservative than ever.

Heather Wilson is the first major candidate in the race, but Republicans are still uneasy in their easy chairs.


Reader Stan Fitch writes:

Our nation needs moderates from both major political parties with people who are willing to exercise the fine art of mutually accommodating differences in philosophy and politic. What a shame then that someone like Heather Wilson is under attack from Republicans, especially the Tea Party. With the R's fighting with each other, it looks like a cake walk for the D's.

On the other hand, a DC reader writes:

I can’t see how Wilson wins a Republican primary unless she makes it extremely personal and nasty, essentially disqualifying her conservative opponents on non ideological grounds. We saw in Delaware, Colorado, Nevada, and Alaska last year that general election electability is a losing argument in closed Republican primaries.

The winning equation is simple--the most conservative candidate wins the 2012 primary. And the race is only for the 3-4 weeks people pay attention, not for the 15 months. The first 6-8 months of Wilson’s campaign are critical. She doesn’t need to raise money as much as completely remake her image ideologically. Money won’t scare off anybody. If she has a completely clear field, it will say a lot about the conservatives in the NM GOP party that they are not as strong as they project themselves to be.


That didn't take long. ABQ School Board member David Robbins resigned his new city hall job as a constituent services aide Monday when it was pointed out city rules prohibit city employees from also serving as elected officials. Robbins sent this email:

I resigned the position with the City first thing this morning. By the way, I never said condoms can increase the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections. I did say and stand by it, that condoms do not prevent pregnancy, STD's, or HIV.

Robbins said he had been on the city job about a week. His hiring was the subject of an Alligator strike on the Monday blog. However, that blog made it seem as if city employees could only be stopped from serving in elective city offices. That was later expanded by administrative order to include all elective offices.


From the Roundhouse a news reporter writes:

Joe, As I get ready for another intense legislative week the events of last week have not set well. Last Thursday in the House--the first day of the driver's license repeal extravaganza--was fascinating in terms of content, passion, and level of communication. The next day the inexorable procedural maneuvering became more transparent. Like you said, this was about driver's licenses?

I would love to see all that willpower and fierce determination applied to jobs and the economy! Remember, a House member asked Rep. Nunez, sponsor of the license repeal, what he considered NM's most pressing problem to be. He said, "Water." The House member asked, "And does this issue help us solve this problem?" Nunez answered, "No." It was the same response to Nunez' second most pressing problem facing NM--jobs.

'Nuff said. Let's see what this crucial next week brings. Maybe even something in the way of ethics reform? So much to do, so little time.

They could do a lot. How about a memorial in support of the Spaceport to erase lingering doubts about the state's commitment? Ditto for the film industry. Tinker with the incentives, but can't we speak in one voice in telling the movie world that it's welcome here?


Some more on the TV news ratings from February. The media mavens point out that the 9 p.m. news on KASA Fox 2 actually pulls a higher household rating than the 10 p.m. news on KOAT-TV. The early news scored a 7.2 rating in February with KOAT garnering a 6.9. They say that's the first time that's happened. The two broadcasts don't compete directly, but the early news muscle is worth mentioning.


It's no secret that more than a few of our state representatives are well into their 70's, which led to this remark from a Roundhouse jokester:

I saw a representative wake up from his nap on the House floor today and ask for Governor King!

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