Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heinrich Vs. Hector: Heinrich's Early Edge, Any More Players? Plus: The Money Race, The Ethnic Angle And Much, Much More 

The psychological edge goes to Rep. Martin Heinrich in the now two way race for the 2012 Democratic US Senate nomination. For Heinrich it is all or nothing. If he loses, his political career is likely over. In those circumstances he will do whatever it takes. His only consideration will be winning---right now. State Auditor Hector Balderas, who made his entry official Tuesday, has something to protect--his future political prospects--and that could make a difference in this campaign.

On the surface this looks like a safe play for Balderas who does not have to give up his auditor post to run. And if he loses, it might help him for a race for attorney general in 2014. But that means he will have a two track Senate campaign. If it comes time to attack Heinrich, will he be able to pull the trigger?

The attorney general's race is already crowded with credible contenders. If Balderas and Heinrich shed too much blood on the battlefield and Balderas loses, they will blame Balderas. Heinrich, on the other hand, will most likely not be around to suffer any negative fall out. If he loses, it's more than likely that it is game over.

It's hard to win a contested US Senate primary against a well-funded, incumbent congressman. The rosy scenario for Hector is that Heinrich just doesn't take hold statewide and that he can take this thing without a bloody fight, or that he forces Heinrich to fire the first shot and then Balderas could argue he had to protect himself. That's the rosy scenario, but that's usually not the one that gets you a ticket to the United States Senate.

We're not talking about negative radio or mailers or pokes on some Facebook site. We're talking statewide, 30 second attack ads that leave no mistake about their intent. Heinrich, who has been brutally battered by two tough Republican opponents and done his own battering in return, doesn't want to go there, but you do what you must when fighting for your life. Balderas has never been in a major negative campaign and has had no negative press. Will he be able to turn that key and launch the missiles if and when that time comes?


Several astute readers questioned our description of Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's decision to not seek the Dem US Senate nomination. We described it "as a gift" to Heinrich. It's true, as readers pointed out, that a three way race with Lujan, Balderas and Heinrich would have split up the Hispanic vote and that would be the real gift to Heinrich. But we were writing Monday from the perspective that Lujan had made up his mind very early not to run and only made it official this week. The gift to Heinrich we meant was the initial, but unofficial decision not to get in the contest. As we have said, Congressman Lujan, with the ability to raise major money and with high name ID, would pose a more immediate threat than Balderas.


What about another Hispanic candidate or two getting in? Don't rule it out yet. New Mexico politics is peppered with examples of Hispanic candidates splitting the vote to the benefit of a lone Anglo contender. Hector's announcement could get the juices flowing with other possible Hispanic hopefuls.

For example, Las Cruces area State Rep. Joe Cervantes has eyed higher office for years. He tried to become Speaker of the State House this last session, but that coup failed. There is no southern candidate in the Dem US Senate primary. Cervantes could be a force if he consolidated that southern vote.

It may be now or never for the 50 year old well-liked attorney. There are simply not any visible opportunities for him outside of this Senate race. The southern US House seat is solid R and going to stay that way. A Cervantes-Heinrich-Balderas race would indeed threaten to split the Hispanic vote, but it's not written in a stone that Anglo Heinrich would come out on top. With his career at an ebb in Santa Fe, the thought of reaching higher for 2012 gives Joe Cervantes something to think about.

Let's also put the name of longtime government manager Lawrence Rael on the table. He ran for Light Guv in 2010 and got a taste of the action. And once you get a taste....well...suffice it to say the thought of the Senate race will give Rael some entertainment.


The Balderas announcement done via email positioned the 37 year old as the anti-establishment candidate, inferring that Heinrich, 39, is too tied to the DC crowd. In a two minute campaign video, Balderas said:

In this campaign I won’t have the most connections in Washington. I won’t be the candidate of the lobbyists or the insiders. But I’m not running to be their senator. I’m running to be yours...

Balderas can afford to attack the "lobbyists and insiders." They won't be giving him much campaign money.

On that subject, Alligators insiders and wall-leaners here and in DC are setting the bar for Balderas at around $300,000 for his first campaign report that will be filed in July and will cover April, May and June. Balderas decided to announce with nearly a month of the reporting period already gone, limiting his time to raise the money, but if he comes with an anemic report of $150,000 that excuse won't go over too well. Remember, Heinrich will also be coming with a new report. What if he raises over $300,000--quite likely--and reports $600,000 in cash at the end of June? He already has $350,000 in the bank. How far can Hector fall behind? Maybe a 2 to 1 advantage isn't overwhelming for a Hispanic candidate who will benefit from ethnic voting. But a 4 to 1 or even 5 to 1 advantage? That's a different story

If Balderas comes in with a healthy number, it should give him some momentum into the summer months. Former NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon, a close friend of Balderas who managed his first campaign for Auditor, is working the state for the funds. Colon also was a big fund-raiser for Big Bill Richardson. But federal rules prevent him from getting corporate money for his friend and trial attorneys--Balderas is a lawyer--are already flocking to Heinrich.

Political consultant Stephen Clermont says Balderas can't count on a "cheap win," meaning ethnic voting. He will need the money for the TV time to make his case.


How did Balderas perform in his first major video? Well, he hugged his mom. That never hurts.

The video was well done, stressing his rural family roots and "Wagon Mound" values. It will be among older Hispanic voters in rural New Mexico where Balderas hopes to overwhelm Heinrich and overcome the congressman's big advantage in vote rich ABQ.

Balderas spoke on camera sparingly, his voice light and not yet showing the ease of a politician comfortable with himself. But one sensed sincerity and authenticity. Good stuff.

Balderas has an appealing personal bio and the candidacy has emotional appeal which contrasts with the more mechanical Heinrich. (The congressman also used a family video in announcing his candidacy).


Hector was raised by a single mother. He says his father was a "foreign born immigrant" from Mexico. His mother's maiden name is Betty Vigil and his grandfather--Juan Vigil--was a sheepherder and native of Wagon Mound where Hector was also born. Anthony Martinez, author of the website, HispanoNewMexico.com, tells us:

The name Balderas...is not among the Spanish surnames of the founding Hispano/Spanish families of NM. Because of this, it is not a common family name in NM and is not very familiar to the Hispano community in our state....As far as Balderas as a candidate for Senate, my opinion is that his name will not be much of a factor against him. NM Hispanos are not so picky about surnames as much as the candidates themselves. And since Hector's mother is a Hispana from a NM family, he does have the roots here to help him....

Thanks for that, Anthony. Certainly it will be recalled in the forthcoming campaign that New Mexico has not had a Hispanic US Senator since Joe Montoya was defeated for re-election in 1976.

Not that Martin is about to cede any territory to Hector. Is it a coincidence that the first stop on his first state tour as a senate candidate is right in Hector's backyard--in Las Vegas:

Friday, May 6, Las Vegas Meet & Greet Breakfast; Charlie's Spic & Span Bakery & Cafe 715 Douglas Ave, Las Vegas; 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.


As far as major issue differences between the two contenders, both will appeal to the liberals who make up the nominating wing of the Democratic Party. Balderas is trying to make Heinrich sound like the consummate political insider, tapped into the corrupt world of DC. But Heinrich is only in his third year on the Hill and does not have an image of being tied to the fat cats of K Street.

We would look to the wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq to see if Balderas will try to run to Heinrich's left. Heinrich has been supportive of administration policies. Will Balderas break with war policy? It might be one way of distinguishing himself from the front runner.


We convened a meeting of the Alligators last night, knowing they would surely come up with some interesting angles. And they certainly did as they tore into the Senate race with the same relish they had for their rib-eyes.

Their most salient point: Where does Balderas stand on key social issues like abortion and gay marriage? Does he have a conservative streak--he is a Catholic from the North--that could put him at odds with urban Dems in ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces?

The Alligators don't usually raise such questions without already knowing the answers.

Another Gator asked if Hector is in this for the duration--until June 2012. He pointed out that federal law would allow any money Balderas collected for a Senate race to be transferred to a state race like attorney general.

Abortion, gay rights, and your commitment to the race. Well, welcome to the big Alligator pond, Hector. And they are just getting started.


We asked Stephen Clermont, a blog reader and head of the Washington consulting group Third Eye Strategies, to give our readers his analysis of the Heinrich-Balderas contest:

It might sound trite, but it will come down to who does the most things right tactically in their campaign....A Democratic primary electorate is usually older, and thus slightly more conservative, than general election Democratic voters. The successful candidate will be the one who best identifies and turns out supporters, particularly first-time primary voters. If one can motivate younger voters to turn out, they will have a real advantage.

Unless a third candidate gets in the race, it won't be in
either's interest to attack and drive up their unfavorable ratings. How Heinrich organizes in CD#2 (the south) and CD#3 (the north) will be key. While the easiest way to look at the difference between them is ethnicity, Hispanics have voted for Anglos and Anglos have voted for Hispanics. For example, Heinrich won heavily Hispanic Valencia County in the 2008 primary narrowly over Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Michelle Lujan-Grisham. CD#1 (ABQ) is less Hispanic overall than the other two, but both candidates have a long road ahead in introducing themselves statewide in a top of the ticket race...


We also quizzed veteran NM Dem politico and pollster Harry Pavlides for his initial thoughts on the Senate race. On Balderas he said:

If he can raise a little money and there is a low turnout in the primary he stands a chance. He needs to make inroads into ABQ where Heinrich has such a strong base.

On Heinrich, Pavlides analyzed:

This is Heinrich's race to lose. The problem for Heinrich is that he has never run in the heavy Hispanic Democratic north. He's run in metropolitan Hispanic neighborhoods in ABQ. He has been sheltered he is going to face some challenges outside of the city. He has grown up a lot in his last three years. I see him rising to the challenge.


From DC, the National Journal's Josh Kraushaar weighs in on the Heinrich-Balderas face-off. An excerpt:

Democratic officials are comfortable with Heinrich, especially given his 2010 reelection in an otherwise dismal year for the party. He was endorsed by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees as a show of support just as Balderas was jumping into the primary. Balderas is a largely unproven political figure and hasn’t demonstrated he can raise funds at the levels necessary to run a big-league campaign. And Heinrich has a record of winning over Hispanics in a plurality-Hispanic seat, including defeating Republican Jon Barela (who is Latino) last year.

But the nature of the New Mexico Democratic electorate presents obstacles for Heinrich. More than half of Democratic primary voters in New Mexico are Hispanic, giving any credible Hispanic candidate an important advantage in a head-to-head campaign.


And what about the bald factor that some half-jokingly comment about? Well, Balderas is the first major candidate we've had for statewide office that we can recall who is completely bald. Heck, he even has the word in his last name. We'll check with the image pros and get some comments on the pros and cons of the cue ball look. As always, your email is also invited.

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