Monday, October 22, 2012

Unprecedented Battle For Soul Of State Senate Dominates Campaign's Final Weeks; Jennings & Sanchez Face Historic Challenge From Governor, But She Falters; Few Show For Her Roswell Rally; But Bloody & Divisive Battle Far From Over; Complete Coverage, Context & Analysis, Plus: Even More Trail Action  

Jennings & Sanchez
With the major races at the top of the ballot all but settled, all eyes in these final two weeks of Campaign 2012 will be glued on the historic drama playing out in the battle for control of the New Mexican Legislature.

We say historic without reservation, as our media Alligators now confirm that the political action committee being run by Governor Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey has purchased over $335,000 in TV time--most of which will be used to attack Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. Just about all the TV cash is coming from out-of-state GOP DC interests and eclipses the $200,000 we first reported Reform was buying.

No sitting Governor has so directly gone after the Senate leadership. A victory against either leader could bolster her strength and legislative program in Santa Fe. A defeat would most certainly bring out the long knives against her and McCleskey. Most important, it would bring Martinez's legislative program--already on a slow boat to China--to a screeching halt for the remaining two years of her term and perhaps leave her more vulnerable to a Dem re-election challenge in 2014.

But it's not as though Jennings and Sanchez are entirely on the defensive. The attacks on them have awakened the Democratic base and groups associated with it--labor unions, teachers, the Obama campaign--are pulling out all the stops to ensure their survival. That the campaign polling in both Senate districts shows both men to be in tough races only heightens the sense of drama and history.

Top political professionals here and in Washington see Jennings as more endangered than Sanchez, given that his district is more Republican leaning. They say Jennings must continue to work to pry Republican votes loose because the district's "performance" rating is over 55% R.

Jennings has received the endorsement of a number of influential Roswell Republicans but does that mean the split will prevail in the grassroots of the GOP? If it doesn't, Jennings could come up short.


The heart of the Democratic response will unfold in the final two weeks, with anticipation building over how nearly $800,000 from the Patriot Majority PAC--funded mainly by labor unions-- will be deployed.

My Senior Alligators--no juniors allowed on this one--tell me that veteran Dem consultants Amanda Cooper and Dave Contarino--engineers of Big Bill's Guv campaigns--are spearheading the strategy for Patriot. As with McCleskey who now must deliver, so must Cooper and Contarino. Neither side can complain that they did not have enough cash. They have too much of it.

We have the first TV ad from Patriot Majority. It refers to Reform NM as "a special interest super PAC attacking women candidates." It adds "...Republicans in Congress are trying to deny women and families critical health care services. Don't let them do it here. To stop them...please look down the entire ballot and vote Democrat for Legislature..."

This spot does not get directly into the contested Senate races of Jennings and Sanchez but concentrates on six GOP House candidates who the spot labels extreme. They include ABQ GOP State Reps. Conrad James, Nate Gentry and Rep. David Chavez, the opponent of Senate leader Sanchez.

Women lean Dem and tend to be late deciders so this spot is obviously put out with that in mind.  The reference to "look down the entire ballot" addresses the Dem worry about the elimination of straight ticket voting this year. Voters have to vote in each race. It could cause a drop-off in votes in the legislative races among more casual voters.

Only about 40,000 votes will be cast in the two marquee Senate races, so the amount being spent by Jay on TV could be called ridiculous as it will reach hundreds of thousands who can't vote. But the TV attacks have an important psychological component and could motivate Republicans across the state and prod them to cast ballots.

Still, it is boots on the ground that will trump TV--no matter how emotional the spots Reform is running as the Baby Brianna spot they released Friday illustrates. In that category Dems have had a traditional edge. Also, Jennings' challenger--the 27 year old Cliff Pirtle and Sanchez challenger--GOP State Rep. David Chavez--are about to see the wrath of the campaign gods come down on them. No one gets out of this one--a battle for the soul of the state--without shedding blood, sweat and tears.

Patriot Majority may come with TV in response to Reform NM in the big Senate races. Almost certainly, they will mail. Jennings is already on the airwaves with his own TV spot that decries the mudslinging in his race against Tea Party sympathizer Pirtle.

But the coup de grace for rancher Jennings, an avuncular personality who can find himself tongue-tied on the Senate floor but never without the respect of the 42 member chamber, is the support of prominent Republicans. He became pro tem by winning the support of all Senate Republicans combined with a handful of conservative oriented Dems. He has been supportive of Martinez in drafting state budgets, but she still sees him as an impediment.

A personal endorsement of Jennings from former New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Harvey Yates Jr. has been mailed. The Yates family of SE New Mexico is one of the most important oil families in the state. Still, that gnawing question lingers for Jennings--will other Republicans follow Yates' lead or not?  Read on...


Roswell Guv Gathering
Governor Martinez campaigned for Pirtle over the weekend in Roswell, and by any measure it was a bust. Take a look at the photo we posted here of Martinez speaking to a rally for Cliff Pirtle.

Perhaps a mere 40 or so souls turned out in heavily Republican Chaves County to hear the Governor tout the young farmer. We'll let someone else call that embarrassing, but if she and Jay can't deliver in this race, they will get another layer of egg on her face--the first layer having being placed there in a state Senate primary in June in Clovis when she openly backed Angie Spears. She lost big to rancher Pat Woods.

Woods made that race about McCleskey, saying the ABQ political consultant was trying to take the decision about who would be the state Senator from Clovis out of the hands of Clovis. Jennings has not been as blatant as Woods, but some consultants think he should be.

As for the Susana Pirtle rally gone bust, a Senior Alligator chimed in:

This shows the Governor that Roswell and Chaves County don't want outside interference in the race. That her political advisers would expose her in such a way is surprising considering the Clovis mishap.

And lest there be any spin that this wasn't a rally for Pirtle, here's what he said on his Facebook page:

Governor Susana Martinez is coming to Roswell on Saturday from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at the yucca center (500 S. Richardson) in support of my campaign for State Senate. Please come support me for State Senate and take an opportunity to speak with our Governor one on one...

Cliff may be a puppet for Jay and Susana but the young man with an ego is quickly learning that even puppets bleed on the field of battle in the do-or-die, kill-or-be-killed race for the power and glory in Little Texas.

The closest analogy to what is happening in the final stretch of Campaign 2012 comes from Campaign 2000. That's when Dem State House Speaker Raymond Sanchez was successfully targeted by ABQ GOP roofing company owner John Sanchez. He put up $200,000 of his own money to take Raymond out and since then has become lieutenant governor. And guess who John's consultant was back then? One Jay McCleskey.


Has there ever been a state campaign more disconnected from reality? You have to ask as Governor Martinez and her political team make the emotional issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants the premier campaign issue, even as the state continues a devastating economic slump that shows no signs of abating:

New Mexico lost 9,200 jobs in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30 for a negative 1.1 percent growth rate, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions said. The state’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in September, down from 6.5 percent in August. In those 12 months, the state’s labor force dropped by 4,000, from 926,092 to 922,092, Workforce Solutions said. Seven industry sectors lost jobs during the year, including  government, which was down 5,100 jobs; professional and business  services, 3,200; construction, 3,000; information and other services,  1,200 each; financial activities, 1,000; and retail trade...

Driver's licenses for the undocumented and the Baby Brianna child abuse case are emotional wedge issues that divert voter attention away from the harsh economic realities. Governor Martinez is out maneuvering Democrats in making these issues the focus--rather than the jobs crisis which continues to worsen under her watch month after month.


The biz groups opposing a dollar an hour increase in ABQ's minimum wage--taking it to $8.50 an hour--come with a sky is falling TV spot, arguing that the increase would mean the closure of local businesses and an increase in taxes--claims that are not supported by previous minimum increases.

How much anti-minimum media will be out there is key. Polling conducted on the issue by Dems had the increase starting out with 59% support, but an aggressive campaign could take that down.

According to published reports, some 40,000 city residents earn the minimum wage.


Martin Heinrich comes with yet another internal poll showing him well ahead of Republican Heather Wilson, but she gets a TV boost from the national Chamber of Commerce which comes with more TV ads.

 Heinrich's poll says he continues to hold a double-digit lead--51 to 41. Independent American Party candidate Jon Barrie pulled 5. In a two way contest, Heinrich leads 53-43. The survey was conducted Oct 14-16. There's never been a public or private poll released during this long campaign that showed Heather leading. 

The Las Cruces-Sun News endorsed Heinrich Sunday. The paper said:

...Heinrich's positions on issues such as immigration and the Dream Act; protection of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and the need to protect and preserve public lands in Doña Ana County and throughout New Mexico make him the best choice to carry on with the work that has been done by (Senator ) Bingaman.

The Santa Fe New Mexican has also endorsed Heinrich.

And newsman Milan Simonich writing for southern NM papers punches up the Senate coverage in his latest piece:
Heinrich blends teen-idol looks with a fighter's instinct, counterpunching to try to take away Wilson's most obvious strength--a compelling resume.


The American clergyman and historian Edward Everett Hale was once asked: "Do you pray for the senators, Dr. Hale?' No, I look at the senators and I pray for the country," he replied.

Maybe we weren't in a fault-finding mood, but we don't think Dr. Hale would have been moved to pray by the performance of either Heinrich or Wilson at Sunday night's KOAT-TV debate. Both vindicated themselves well, hammering home their key campaign planks as they have all year.

Veteran pollster Brian Sanderoff gave Wilson a "solid B" and Heinrich a "B-". She did win it on points, but because front-runner Heinrich had a gaffe free performance he protects his polling lead and the debate ends in a draw.

The difference this time was the noticeable polish of both contenders. After all that time on the stump Heinrich has had a growth spurt and Wilson has harnessed her ferociousness into a cogent and even eloquent case. A fast-paced format only made their sharpness more noticeable.

Wilson scored points with her rabid defense of federal funding for the state's defense and energy establishment, while trying to lay blame at Heinrich's feet for possible future federal job losses. She unabashedly and unapologetically said she would fight for every penny of federal funding. (Take that Tea Party). When asked exactly how she would make the case with her senate colleagues for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs, she hit it out of the park, summing it up as succinctly as we've ever heard it. 

For his part Heinrich was steady Eddie and an informed one. He did particularly well at poking at Heather's soft spot--her stance on Social Security reform and her position from years ago that she would entertain the notion of private accounts. She was on the defensive on the issue as she has been all campaign long. It has been key to Heinrich leading in the polls. 

Heinrich was the lesser known of these candidates and he has benefited most from these debates, starting tentatively and gradually getting better and better. Wilson has actually made him a better candidate and while the race has lacked fireworks or a major memorable moment, New Mexicans did get a fair and square debate over its future. (The final Senate debate is Thursday at 7 p.m. on KOB-TV).


In Washington...
How at risk that future is when it comes to the massive federal funding here was brought into focus for us when we attended a farewell brunch for outgoing Senator Jeff Bingaman in ABQ on Sunday morning. All his seniority--30 years worth--will disappear in a puff when he exits in just two months. The 2009 loss of GOP Senator Domenici and his seniority is already being felt in the area economy. They have brought billions into the state and it has made a difference in the quality of life.

Now the average citizen is simply worried about Social Security and Medicare being there for them--never mind the rest of the federal largesse. That concern favors the Democratic candidate. 

Combined with Wilson's high unfavorables accumulated during many rugged campaigns, Heinrich's continued growth as a congressman (he certainly looks the part) and the state's demographic drift, the burden of defending New Mexico in Washington appears about to be his.

Before we left the Bingaman brunch a top aide to Senator Domenici who is now a DC lobbyist insisted that the smart money only has Heather down by 3.7 percent and she can still close the deal.

If Heinrich is indeed the winner, he and his staff would be well-served to let some of that never-say-die spirit in the Wilson camp rub off on them. This state is going to need it.

Susana & Janice (Bralley photo)
Here you go Janice Arnold-Jones fans. The pic you've been waiting for. Governor Susana finally caught up with the ABQ GOP underdog congressional contender and showed Janice some love at a get out the vote event in ABQ. 

A faction of the GOP--many of whom are associated with Susana (Hello, Darren) have snubbed Janice and even denigrated her candidacy. Her long established reputation as being a moderate Republican drove them over the edge.

Susana has not been rushing to be anyone's good luck charm this election season, even though her approval rating of over 60% has GOP candidates looking to rub up against her. 

Now more on the congressional race...

Running far behind in the polls, ABQ GOP congressional candidate Janice Arnold-Jones comes with a well-produced negative TV ad against Dem front-runner Michelle Lujan Grisham as she tries to get the race in play in the final two weeks. From her campaign:

...The ad raises doubts about Lujan Grisham’s claim of standing up for New Mexicans by pointing to specific examples of her failures throughout her career as both an unelected bureaucrat, and as a County Commissioner. ..“Voters need to know about Michelle’s real record,” said Rachelle Hadland, Arnold-Jones’ campaign manager.  “She paints a picture of her achievements that just isn’t true.  We intend to shine a light on her resume and hold her accountable for her actions.  We started that process when we launched our web-site, www.TheMichelleRecord.com, and we’re continuing it now with this spot...

In the latest ABQ Journal poll, Michelle leads Janice 51% to 37%. The duo debated last Thursday night on KOB-TV in a program moderated by veteran anchorman Tom Joles. You can see all of it here.


The All Indian Pueblo Council endorses a truck load of Democrats for re-election each election cycle and this one is no different. So what Republicans won the AIPC nod?

ABQ GOP State Senator John Ryan--being challenged by independent Joe Carraro--and ABQ GOP State Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, who is unopposed, were the only two Republicans we saw in the over 40 legislative endorsements made by AIPC. Maybe Senator Pinto will buy them lunch.

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