Thursday, September 15, 2022

Then There Were Three; Another Guv Poll Confirms MLG Lead; Analyzing The Trio Of Surveys And What They Tell Us, Plus: One Last Take On Stokes' UNM Lobbyist Pick 

Then there were three. 

The third public poll in the '22 Guv race followed fast on the heels of the second and confirmed MLG's lead as did the first conducted last month. Taken together the surveys peg MLG as the favorite with the door still left ajar a bit for Republican Mark Ronchetti. 

The Emerson College survey for KRQE-TV conducted September 8 thru 11 of 1,000 "somewhat likely" or "very likely" voters says MLG is in the lead 48 to 43 with three percent choosing "others" and just 5 percent undecided. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent. 

That poll follows the Tuesday release of the KOB-TV SurveyUSA conducted September 8 thru 12 that gave the Governor a substantial 12 point lead--48 to 36. 

The ABQ Journal survey, in the field August 19-25, put her ahead with 47 percent to Ronchetti's 40 percent. 

MLG's polling average in all three is 47.66 percent. Ronchetti's is 39.66. 


We asked veteran New Mexico independent political operative Steve Cabiedes for analysis. 

The Journal and the Emerson polls have it about where I believe it is. The SurveyUSA is a bit of an outlier when it comes to Ronchetti's weakness but I am still not seeing a path for him to win. He has pounded away at Lujan Grisham for three months but still has not closed the gap. What it will take to break out is unknown, if anything. The structural advantage any Democrat running for statewide office has is seen in all three polls. This is not 2010 when there was a more moderate tinge to the electorate and the state elected a Republican Governor. Dems, however, have to fine tune their get out the vote machine to avoid any unpleasant surprises. 

Ronchetti has not yet been able to surpass 43 percent in any of the public polling, near the base number for a Republican statewide hopeful, but MLG still has work to do to close the deal. The final weeks still matter.

Emerson pegs abortion as the #2 concern of voters they surveyed so the Dems have their marching orders. 

The poll says the economy still prevails as the top issue for voters and that tells Republicans where they need to go, in addition to their sharp attacks on MLG. 

Crime, Ronchetti's chief calling card of late, is named the fourth most important issue statewide. He is hoping it will matter more in big BernCo where the crime wave continues. 

The national environment on abortion appears to be helping Democrats here and President Biden's approval does not appear to be a major detriment. His Emerson approval rating is 47 percent and 47 percent disapprove. He carried the state by 10 points in 2020 and this survey for KRQE says if he faced Trump again in 2024 he would win here by six. 


Voters have approved a constitutional amendment to abolish the powerful elected Public Regulation Commission (PRC) and switch to a commission with members appointed by the Governor. But Native Americans have enjoyed robust membership on the PRC and now a group of them is going to court to stop the amendment from taking effect. . .Mark Ronchetti has released an ad accusing MLG of mismanaging the Children, Youth, & Families Department. . . NM Dems point out that the Washington Post published an article "naming Mark Ronchetti as one of five notable Republicans from across the country who recently backtracked on abortion.". . .


Garnett Stokes
It's said and done---Mayor Keller chief of staff Michael Puelle will be the new lobbyist for UNM, but that doesn't stop this insider from lamenting over the ethnic leadership of the state's largest university. 

The University of New Mexico’s new Director of Government and Community Relations, Mike Puelle, fits the profile of President Garnett Stokes' other top-level hires. He is Anglo and from out of state. The UNM Executive Vice President for Health Sciences is Douglas Ziedonis, UNM Chief of Staff is Terry Babbitt, the Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration is Teresa Costandinidis, the Provost is James Holloway and all are Anglo and from out of state. 

Hispanic New Mexicans are good enough to be office assistants and administrative assistants in the President’s Office, but not a member of leadership. I thought UNM stood for the University of New Mexico not the University IN New Mexico. Stokes needs to go, and I hope her replacement at least attempts to honor the diversity of our state. 

First they blasted Stokes for considering Republican and former state Rep. Conrad James for the lobbying post. Now they're grumbling over Puelle and Hispanic representation. But one supposes that's why Stokes gets the big bucks. Have a nice weekend, Garnett. . . or something. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

MLG Commands Double-Digit Lead in New SurveyUSA; She Overpowers Ronchetti Among Women And Hispanics; Race Looking Less "Lean" And More "Likely" For Majority Dems, Plus: More Campaign Action  

King-sized leads among women and Hispanics powered Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to a 12 point lead in the latest KOB-TV SurveyUSA poll, threatening to move the race to the likely Democratic column from lean Dem. 

It was MLG 48 percent, Republican Mark Ronchetti 36 percent, Libertarian Karen Bedonie 5 percent and 11 percent undecided. The survey was conducted September 8-12 among 558 likely voters. 

The double-digit lead is her biggest of the campaign. The SurveyUSA in June had it 47 to 43 for MLG and the late August ABQ Journal poll gave the Governor a 47 to 40 percent lead over Ronchetti. 

Her support among women was at 51 percent while Ronchetti lagged at 33 in this latest SurveyUSA released late Tuesday.

Her backing among Hispanics grazed against the landslide number of 60 with 59 percent supporting her but she will want to go higher with that traditionally Dem bloc before it’s all over.

She even beat him among men, a group heavy with Republicans, scoring 45% to his 39%.

On crime, seen as her chief vulnerability, MLG managed to eke out a 44 to 41 win over the GOP contender. On abortion she walloped him 68 to 22 percent. 

And importantly, she blew the doors off among Democrats getting 88 percent of their support. Meanwhile, Ronchetti's faction bedeviled GOP gave him only 76 percent backing. 

It was Ronchetti's misstep on the abortion issue in July that may be remembered as the death blow if he goes on to lose November 8. 


The one glimmer of good news for Ronchetti was the relatively high margin of error of the poll of 5.7 percent. But the trend is clear. He has led in no public polls and her lead has grown since June.

That MLG is not at 50 percent is a small branch for the GOP to hang its hat on because the Libertarian is drawing five percent. And she has room to grow. Her approval rating in the poll was at 53 percent, previously foreign territory for her but now above 50 for the first time in many months. 

This may be the worst poll that Ronchetti confronts between now and Election Day. Republican performance in a statewide race is around 43 percent on the low end. In 2020 he managed 46 percent in his US Senate race against Ben Ray Lujan. 

But the former TV weather celebrity will need all the breaks to get it close, including some at the upcoming TV debates, one of which will be aired live on KOB-TV at 7 p.m. September 30. 

He has the money to make the run to the end, but she has all the oxygen and a wide open track while his path is now more narrow than ever.


That SurveyUSA poll looked a lot like the ABQ Journal's late August survey when it comes to the races for attorney general and secretary of state.

Dem Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver led Republican Audrey Trujillo 46% to 35% with a Libertarian candidate getting 3 percent and undecided. In the Journal poll Oliver received 45 per cent, Trujillo 33 percent and the Libertarian 4 percent. 

In the attorney general contest Dem BernCo DA Raul Torrez had a 49 to 34 SurveyUSA lead over Republican Jeremy Gay with 18 percent undecided. In the Journal survey Torrez beat Gay 49 to 33.


Northern and Eastern NM Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez continues her TV campaign with this spot focusing on water issues. . . Mark Ronchetti announces he has been endorsed by the NM Fraternal Order of Police. . .The Vote Yes for Kids campaign, organized to support passage of Constitutional Amendment 1, says it has raised over $1.3 million. The group also released its first TV ad titled Our Future.


Michael Puelle 
Micheal Puelle is far from a household name but the freshly appointed top lobbyist for UNM sure has a recognizable face in La Politica. 

We found that out when we mistakenly posted a picture that we thought was of Puelle but was decidedly not. It happened as we were searching for a newer photo to run of the outgoing Mayor Keller chief of staff because the only one available seemed to be from Puelle's college days but the one we came up with was a bust.

It was Mayor Keller's Facebook to the rescue. When he congratulated his chief on his new $192,000 a year job Tuesday, he ran a picture of his staff including Puelle and that's what's posted here today.

Thanks to those who caught the misprint, including a number of Senior Alligators in Santa Fe. We suppose that bodes well for Puelle when he assumes his new job shmoozing the lawmakers October 10. 

We dialed up the new lobbyist but we're unable to make contact. Do you think he's heard enough from us since we spent several days breaking wide open the backstory on his appointment by UNM President Stokes? Well, he wouldn't be the first-- and won't be the last. 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Playing Field Nearly Even When It Comes To Money Race For Final Weeks Of Guv '22 Campaign, Plus: More State House Races To Watch Following Finance Reports, And: Stokes Speeds Up Pick For Top UNM Lobbying Job Amid Political Tension  

The key takeaway from the latest finance reports in the '22 Guv race is this: MLG regained her fundraising clout after springing a leak earlier in the season but Mark Ronchetti held his own and the campaigns are essentially even when it comes to finance in the final days.

MLG report here. Ronchetti report here. All finance reports here.

MLG raised a solid $2.6 million in the July 3 to September 5 period and ended with close to $3 million in cash on hand. Ronchetti scooped up $2.4 million and had cash on hand of $2.4 million. 

What's impressive about Ronchetti's performance is the number of small donations. That should translate into motivated voters come November, says one of our analysts:

Ronchetti came close to the Governor who received more big dollar contributions--those of $5,000 or more--but he tapped into the grassroots and delivered with his totals. Those small contributors will vote and show enthusiasm among the GOP base. Democrats and MLG have to be mindful of that going forward and get their own vote motivated. 

Of course, the latest money totals do not include the millions pouring into the campaigns from out of state interest groups like the GOP Guv's Association for Ronchetti and Planned Parenthood and the like for MLG. 

The Governor has now raised more than $10.4 million in total in the contest , with Ronchetti clocking in with $6.4 million. 

The authortative ABQ Journal poll conducted Aug 19-25 put a damper on Ronchetti's campaign showing him trailing 47 to 40 percent. Dem consultant Sisto Abeyta says:

I think he should have put more money in the race in the early going. He is in good financial shape today but the numbers are rougher to move than they were back in June or July.

The Ronchetti camp put this spin on the fundraising and polling numbers:

Lujan Grisham and her special interest left-wing allies have spent millions of dollars distorting Ronchetti’s positions and character, and the incumbent still hasn’t approached 50% of the vote in any of the available polling.

MLG's team reacted with this:

Governor Lujan Grisham’s campaign now has $3 million cash on hand, even after significantly outspending opponents Mark Ronchetti and (Libertarian) Karen Bedonie on advertisements over the summer. 

What big dollars Ronchetti did raise came mainly from the SE oil, gas and ranching interests. 

MLG tapped Melinda French Gates for $10,400. Kurt Steinhaus, her new Secretary of Education, donated $3,000, ABQ auto deal Ed Garcia gave $10,400 and recently appointed ABQ state Rep. Art De La Cruz donated $2,000. Oil giant Exxon gave $10,400. 


The statewide races below Governor are all sleepers, with the Democratic candidates headed for victories. For example, Sec. of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver reported $237,000 in cash on hand compared to Republican Audrey Trujillo's $26,000. To beat Oliver, Trujillo would have to be on TV in a big way and she won't be. 

In the 70 state House races consultant Abeyta said some of the fund-raising reports caught his eye:

Joe, Kurstin Johnson, wife of former BernCo Commissioner Wayne Johnson, is now financially competitive with Dem state Rep. Natalie Figueroa for the Distrcit 30 seat in the NE Heights. The race leans Democratic but it should be on the watch list. 

The same for the Las Cruces contest between Dem Rep. Nathan Small and Republican Kim Skaggs in District 36. He is favored to win but Skaggs has raised enough money to make her competitive. Small has been mentioned as a possible candidate for House Majority Leader so this bears watching. 

Rep. Marian Matthews is way ahead of Republican Bob Godshall in District 27 in NE ABQ and the race looks closed out. And Republican Nicole Chavez, who shined in the early going, is looking dimmer in the final stretch. Rep. Pamelya Herndon has a big money advantage for the final months. That race has gone from toss up to lean Democratic. I would add that GOP women concerned about abortion may be helping Herndon. 

Overall, the composition of the House with its fat Democratic majority is not expected to change dramatically this election but if you're looking for excitement it is in competitive House races races where you'll find it.  


It appears UNM President Garnett Stokes got tired of the Alligators snapping at her heels and moved up the announcement of who will get the top lobbying position for the university. The Gators have been reporting here that the final choice had come down to former ABQ GOP state Rep. Conrad James and Michael Puelle, the chief of staff to Dem ABQ Mayor Keller. 

And it was Puelle who was awarded the prize Wednesday following our blog describing the tension over the decision, including one Dem Alligator sniping at Stokes over her possibly naming Republican James to the plum post.

Puelle will not pull down "north of $200,000" in annual salary that was cited here but will come close at $192,000. 

Stokes said of her appointment: 

I am thrilled to welcome Michael to the UNM leadership team. He has embraced public service throughout his career and brings us the ideal combination of strength as an administrator and extensive experience at all levels of government, including community relations and legislative strategy. 

Mayor Keller added. 

UNM will be in good hands, and our entire City team is grateful for his leadership during some exceptionally tough times. We are confident his executive experience at the City and past work on the state and federal level makes him a strong fit for his new role where he will continue to advance the success of the Duke City.

Hold on there. Did we just hear Mayor Tim refer to ABQ as the "Duke City?" Does that mean "Burque" is in trouble? Yet another case for an Alligator investigation, for sure. And they have the time now that the UNM high stakes lobbying movida is over. 

As for Mr. Puella, don't fret too much that you didn't make the $200k level. If you had, the Gators who were harping over Conrad James possibly nabbing the gig would be asking for a commission, or at least one of those big steaks at the Bull Ring. 

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Ronchetti Roughed Up Over Latest Crime Ad And That's Not His Only Problem, Plus: More On Positioning For Top UNM Lobby Job, And: The Up and Downs Of Mayor Tim 

One scribe refers to the race for Governor as "fiercely competitive" but it's more like "fiercely contested." The competitive edge seems tilted toward the incumbent as GOP Guv nominee Mark Ronchetti comes off a rough summer and faces more problems this month. For example. . .

The polling shows him seven points behind MLG, he made a major misstep on the critical abortion issue, he is being taken to task over the accuracy of his latest crime commercial and today, according to sources, he will find himself facing a mountain of opposition cash when MLG and other candidates file fund-raising reports for the months of July and August. 

In the last report Ronchetti out raised MLG in the month of June when the bloom was fully on his rose following his landslide win in the primary--$2.1 million to her $750,000. But MLG today is expected to report over $2.5 million in cash raised in July and August. That will likely further her cash on hand advantage over the challenger and that's not including millions in TV ads coming in from out of state interests. 

Ronchetti needs to run a near picture perfect campaign--as would any challenger--to oust an incumbent Democrat in a Dem state but that's easier said than done. On his #1 issue of crime he is taking a stiff hit as the fact checkers examine his new spot (here and here) that features Ronchetti's wife describing a supposed home invasion incident at the couples ABQ home. The incident, in which a police report was never filed, happened in 2012, long before MLG took office.

That's a double hit on the former TV weather forecaster because he has been scoring with a PAC spot that calls out MLG for an ad in which she erroneously accuses him of advocating for defunding the police.

Political pros say Ronchetti has about a month to tighten the race up. The late October TV debates are important but usually not game-changers. The cement starts to settle when the  Balloon Fiesta ends which this year is October 9.


We told you about Democratic discontent over former ABQ GOP state Rep. Conrad James rising to the top of the finalist list for the plum post of top lobbyist for the University of New Mexico. Now our Alligators report that Michael Puelle, chief of staff to Dem ABQ Mayor Tim Keller, is James' chief rival for the position which will be decided by UNM President Garnett Stokes. 

Puelle handled government affairs for the Associated General Contractors before joining Keller in 2020. Prior to that he was co-founder of the Setter Group, a major Santa Fe lobbying firm. 

The UNM gig is highly coveted and pays north of $200,000.  In our Sept 1 blog we noted how behind the scenes some Dems have been hoping to block James' appointment, calling him a Susana Martinez Republican and questioning how effective he would be with a Dem dominated legislature. 

Now the question is whether Puelle has the pull to take James out. The Gators report there are also a couple of other finalists for the post, including a DC lobbyist and an analyst with the Legislative Finance Committee in Santa Fe. The job is expected to be filled prior to the start of the 2023 legislative session. 

We get further analysis on the Stokes-James connection from a former UNM higher-up:

Joe, this President is on her way out. Her contract ends next March and has already been renewed once. We have not had a President with two contract renewals since President Richard Peck. If Conrad James gets the lobbying job, he will have his buddy Republican UNM Regent Jack Fortner to thank. The President needs the Regents to give her a gold star to secure her bonuses before she leaves the state and the best way to earn a gold star is to hire the Regent's friends to high paying positions. 


Meanwhile, Gov. Lujan Grisham, not known for hanging on to her personnel for any lengthy periods of time, announces that one staffer, Courtney Kerster, who has hung in there will now be her interim chief of staff. She has been MLG's director of federal affairs. Her working relationship with her goes back to MLG's congressional days where Kerster, about 36 and a University of Virginia graduate, served as legislative director and deputy chief of staff. Previously she worked as a US Senate staffer. 

The chief of staff job will become vacant when Matt Garcia leaves at the end of the month. He has been nominated for a federal judgeship, a lifetime appointment. Garcia had been chief counsel to the Governor when he was named chief of staff to fill a vacancy. 

The chief of staff position under this Governor has not been a powerhouse. She is known for running her own ship--for better or worse. The first to hold the job was John Bingaman, the son of former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, but he saw the handwriting on the wall and would soon depart. 

There is a former gubernatorial chief of staff who has a role with MLG. That would be David Contarino, former chief of staff to Gov. Richardson. Contarino has served as an advisor and TV strategist for MLG and is doing so again for this campaign from his headquarters in Kentucky where he now resides.


Mayor Keller 
Mayor Tim had a big win at the city council last Wednesday when encampments for the homeless (safe spaces) were allowed to go forward only to get the air knocked out of him this weekend when it was revealed he's been busy creating lots and lots of "unclassified positions," many of which pay well over $100K a year and could be argued are meant to advance his political interests more than the city's. 

Most glaring is the rehiring of former city councilor and city attorney Bob White at $170,000 a year. White is one of the most affable guys you'll meet, but the seventy something lawyer was already on government retirement before getting rehired and the diehard Dylan fan is old enough to remember when Bob went electric. White's new position of "associate chief administrative officer" is newly created and as ambiguous as it sounds. Longtime Keller critic and ABQ real estate investor Doug Petersen came with the takedown:

Mayor Keller has literally been inventing $100,000+ jobs for friends & political allies while APD is way below the number of needed officers & citizens wait on hold for 20+ minutes when they call the cops. These cushy positions include “266 jobs added since Keller took office less than five years ago such as performance and innovation managers, chief impact officer and civic engagement coordinator. As Councilor Davis politely puts it, “these (unclassified) positions more serve the agenda of the mayor than the day-to-day work of the city and you see them in places like marketing and not out in the street engaging directly with (the public).

Keller's against the grain veto that he managed to prevent the council from overriding was the kind of leadership with backbone the city has been yearning for, but then the second term curse arises again and washes ashore the detritus from his first four years. 

We'd like to say it won't happen again, but if we did our Alligators would hang us in effigy in Old Town Plaza with photos of Bob White dancing on their noses. But Good luck, Tim. Or something. . . 

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