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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Robert Vigil Found Guilty On One Count; Acquitted on 23 Other Charges 

Ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil has been found guilty of just one of the 24 corruption charges he faced at his federal retrial. The verdicts came down Saturday afternoon.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Again!? Vigil Trial Stunner: Alternate Juror Says Ex-Treasurer Is Innocent; The Jury & The Politicos Ponder, Plus: Radio Talker Bites The Dust 

Is the second Vigil jury setting up to deliver a bombshell like the first one? Could be. Moments after the defense team for the ex-treasurer rested its case without presenting even one witness--as it did in his first trial which ended in a mistrial--an alternate juror emerged from the federal courthouse in downtown Albuquerque and announced that she believes the feds have failed to prove their case and that Vigil should walk.

While only an alternate juror who will not deliberate Vigil's fate on extortion charges, she did sit through the nearly one month proceeding and heard all the evidence. Her statement sent a shock wave through the U.S. attorney's office, still reeling from the first trial in which a lone juror held out forcing the second round.

While this retrial played out, ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson aired hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV ads pounding her Dem opponent, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, for allegedly failing to go after Vigil when she had the chance.


What impact will the decision in the second trial have on the campaign, if any?

A mistrial would keep Republican blood boiling over Madrid who they would readily blame for the outcome because of maneuvering she conducted over state charges facing key witnesses. But how it will play with undecided voters is most key, and most of them are not Republicans. Do they care, or are they numbed by the year long legal wrangling?

Certainly GOP U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has as much as anyone riding on this highest of high-profile cases. Another mistrial, or a not guilty verdict, would leave him with a lot of explaining to do.

One other stunner from that alternate juror. She was asked about the undercover video tape showing Vigil accepting thousands in cash from an investment adviser who did business with the treasurer. That, said the alternate of the prosecutions key piece of evidence, was nothing more than a "set-up" by the FBI.

Told of the alternate's comments, Vigil defense attorney Sam Bregman broke into a wide smile. The rest of us had our jaws agape. Stay tuned.

While the verdict is still out on the he Vigil retrial, it is in on ABQ's experiment with a second talk radio station. KAGM 106.3 FM confirmed our mid-August report Thursday and announced that it will can the format today and switch to a Spanish music format.

The station's morning host, radio veteran Larry Ahrens, told me after nearly a year and a half on the air, but with ratings in the cellar (only a 0.8% share of the radio market) management decided that they couldn't make a go of it.

"Talk radio is an AM format. Making it go on FM in a market this size was always an iffy proposition," said NM talk radio pioneer Mike Santullo.

Ahrens, who spent 25 years hosting the morning show on talk giant 770 KKOB-AM radio before heading to the FM dial, said he thought the station could have found a niche if given more time, but it was not to be. He said he will pursue a PR venture, but did not rule out a future radio gig. Stay tuned, but only if you are looking for some Spanish music. The talk button has been put on mute.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Now It's Personal: Big Bill Says Madrid Will Win & He Will Get The Vote Out For Her, Plus: Dendahl Says "Major" Radio Buy Coming, But Not TV 

Big Bill
Declaring that Democrats are starting to come home, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is telling the national press and pundits that Attorney General Patricia Madrid will make history and score a "narrow victory" over ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson for the ABQ U.S. House seat. Big Bill says a "Democratic wave" will be responsible. Going all in and making this one personal, he says "my get out the vote operation" will be the other reason for what would be a stunning upset in the district that has been in Republican hands since its creation in 1968.

One could write off some of this as bravado; Dem spin in an effort to fire up the troops. But his thesis is getting backing from one of the nation's influential political pundits. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report tells the Hill newspaper that the Wilson-Madrid race is now "the most competitive" one for the U.S House of Representatives in the USA.

Late Wednesday Democratic pollster Harry Pavlides, polling for a statewide candidate, reported he also surveyed the 1st CD and reports that his 388 interviews show the race a "dead heat," with Madrid having a one point lead. (Margin of error + or-5%.) This Sunday the ABQ Journal, whose late August poll showed Wilson with a three point advantage, will release its latest independent numbers.

(I will have a special blog Sunday with excerpts of my interview with Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. Monday I will bring in my 1st CD specialists, including Pavlides, Republican Bruce Donisthorpe and field specialist Steve Cabiedes.)

Pavlides took his poll Sunday thru Wednesday. He said Wilson's problem is not among Republicans--she is still getting over 80% of them--but with Democrats in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque where he says some Dems who normally vote with the GOP Congresswoman are going into the Madrid column. He said the battleground precincts in the Mid-Heights were essentially tied.


The Guv made his bold prediction at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in D.C., but the news roared quickly back to New Mexico as politicos seized on his comment that it would be his operation that will make a Madrid win possible. That sets him up to take credit for a victory that would boost his national standing as he pursues the 08' Dem Prez nomination.

But the Governor's crystal ball is not perfect. He also predicted a narrow victory for Dem Prez Hopeful John Kerry in NM In 04', but it was Bush who eked out the narrow win, despite Big Bill putting his prestige and political power on the line. Maybe the Guv figures if he is wrong on this one, it will fade quickly from memory like the Kerry loss. But this is different. This one is La Politica, and if Madrid fails, Richardson will now be seen in many quarters as a father of the defeat as well as any victory.

Still, there is consensus among top political analysts here and in Washington that Madrid has survived the initial wave of attacks on her ethics and has even picked up some votes. There is still eons to go--over five weeks--but the psychology has now changed, and in politics that cannot be underestimated. Political pros who could not bring themselves to utter the phrase, "Heather could lose," are now saying it out loud.

Clearly, the campaign for this seat, one that could possibly decide the future control of the United States government, has reached an inflection point this week. Wilson has not been able to stop the smell of blood from spreading, but she has been able to stop the electorate from seeing actual blood in the water.That is essential as the Democratic voter registration edge is significant and if they get too roused, Wilson will see the value of her congressional pension check shrivel.


Heather's dilemmas is the unpopular Iraq war and President. She refused to alter her position on the conflict when it was least politically risky; a change now could lessen opposition, helping hold any tidal wave at bay, but it might also set off a political firestorm that ends her political career, puts Madrid in the congress and aids Big Bill's national position. Not exactly a low-stakes poker game,is it?

Focusing on the issue of national security could lessen the impact of the war question.

As for Madrid, who tangled repeatedly with Big Bill early in his term, she is now obviously pleased he is all in with her, but this campaign is not really about her. And that, of course, is Wilson's problem. As we write, the campaign has become nationalized; the only scenario under which the seat could turn. Madrid is a bystander to history. She will be quiet and raise money and let her media and her and Big Bill's extensive ground operation do their thing. If this race stands where it appears to, Wilson is the one facing a campaign filled with critical decisions.


With calendars set to turn to the do-or-die month of October, the Democrats have an historic opportunity to take the seat, but the R's have history on their side.


While Wilson organizes for her final, fateful push, her party's GOP Governor nominee confirmed Wednesday that campaign fundraising has been a severe challenge. John Dendahl told 770 KKOB-AM radio that the has put together enough money to launch a " major radio buy," but critical TV spots may or may not come. In that regard, he could only describe his campaign as "hopeful."

He continued to tear into Big Bill calling him a "vengeful, ruthless man" who has people across the state "scared to death.'

But it is many Republicans who are scared that Dendahl's inflammatory and controversial candidacy is repressing GOP enthusiasm and threatens to keep some of them home, not only inflating Big Bill's margin, but severely wounding Wilson.


More money for Legislators? We said Wednesday we were skeptical of the argument from Big Bill's ethics panel that giving the lawmakers more cash would improve their ethics. Matt Brix, executive director of NM Common Cause and a member of the commission, blogs in with a different take:

"Current statute is very vague on what campaign contributions can and cannot be used for. Our recommendation is that new legislation be introduced to specify that campaign contributions shall not be used for official duties (mailers to constituents during non-campaign cycles, office expense, etc.). In exchange, our proposal is to allow legislators to draw upon an expense account, up to $10,000 annually. This way, it's all above board and we can head off any real or perceived abuses in the use of campaign funds."

Brix also points out that while the ethics panel wants the treasurer appointed by the Governor with state senate confirmation, the auditor would be appointed either by the Legislature or an "independent commission." We argued to keep the posts elected, but Brix says appointment of the positions would guarantee better qualified officials.

Well, at least we are arguing about the ethics problem, and not denying it.

Help us write the blog. Send your news, ideas and corrections to the email at the top of the page, and we'll continue to do our best to keep you up-to-date during this busy stretch.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Campaign 06' Rolls On And We Have The Latest Action: From Auditor To Governor From The Southwest's #1 Political Blog 

Don't look for the campaign kitty of GOP Guv contender John Dendahl to be bursting with big homegrown Republican donations. Insiders report Dendahl has been getting the cold shoulder from many of the usual donors who are telling him they are reluctant to cross Democrat Big Bill who is pegged as the easy winner and someone they may have to do business with in the next four years.

The former state party chairman might want to plead with national R's to give him some cash to spare him and the party the embarrassment of having hardly any media presence in the final stretch of the Guv battle.

Joltin' John will get some free media today. If you wonder what he's been up to, you can hear him on Villanucci on 770 KKOB-AM starting at 4 p.m.


More on the NM visit of top White House political adviser Karl Rove. We broke the news yesterday. A top R refines exactly what Rove is expected to do here:

"Rove will not "visit Wilson campaign headquarters mid-morning on Saturday," as you blogged. He is going to the Victory 2006 office, the uncoordinated bunch of kids working on behalf of the Republican National Committee/GOPNM. Remember, Heather is independent. She would never ask for the support of Bush's top adviser!!"

Right, like Karl is not knee-deep in every important congressional race.

Our insider R also gives us some spin on what he claims is the latest take of the national R's on the Heather-Patricia Madrid congressional battle.

"The NRCC (Nat'l GOP Congressional Committee) is thinking about moving the Wilson/Madrid race off of their "toss-up" list into the leans "R" list. Insider polling shows Heather up five points with less of a +/- margin than the KOB/Survey USA poll. This means the NRCC may cut back on some of their ad buys."

So if all is well, what is Rove coming here for? And why is the head of the NRCC saying Heather is "one of our toughest races"? We await the ABQ Journal poll this Sunday to give us a better idea. But we thank our insider for his info, since getting information out of Heather's campaign is like trying to get a front row seat to a Rolling Stones concert. Just ask the ABQ Journal's D.C. chief Michael Coleman.

Meanwhile, Rove will also attend a fundraiser here at which tickets, says another R, are going for up to $5,000 a pop with the money going to the state party.

Some Dems have talked about setting up a protest to welcome Rove to the election battle.


Top politicos checking in here say most of the ethics reforms proposed by Big Bill's panel are going to be dead on arrival at the Legislature. That's hard to believe since we just lived through the huge Treasurer scandal as well as all kinds of pay to play allegations from both sides of the aisle. But the "zone of tolerance" is pretty wide around these parts and if incumbents don't feel threatened at the polls they will be reluctant to change the status quo from which they benefit. Don't say we didn't tell you.


One of the reform proposals is to let the Governor appoint the state treasurer and hve the auditor appointed by the Legislature or an independent commission, but even Dem auditor candidate Hector Balderas is turning thumbs down on that as is his GOP rival Lorenzo Garcia.

Says Hector: "I am concerned about appointment...the auditor serves as an independent check on executive and legislative power and must sometimes be in conflict with government in order to carry out a watch dog mission."

And Lorenzo chimes in to the blog: "The independence...of the auditor is crucial to his responsibility of providing assurance to the public that tax dollars are being collected and expended efficiently and honestly. An appointed auditor would not be independent."

They're both right. Appointing the auditor and treasurer would not necessarily mean less corruption. n the case of the Treasurer, it could encourage future gubernatorial abuse. How about Republicans getting off of their butts and hotly contesting the auditor and treasurer posts each election cycle? And how about the Dems weeding out the bad guys who go after the jobs? Is that so hard? Don't destroy the checks and balances our great-grandparents put into effect. Make it work.

While we're at it. Paying the Legislature anymore money in any form is just plain poppycock. What in the name of Clyde Tingley does that have to do with ethics lapses? An extra ten grand is not going to stop a crook from being a crook. The ethics panel got way sidetracked on that one. If such a proposal is made and has to go to the voters, put it on the dead-on-arrival stack.


Al Kissling
It's the Dems who are fired up this cycle with the polling and national news backdrop providing the encouragement. In southern NM retired Reverend Al Kissling, the Dem foe of GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is starting to give the D's some of that old time religion, firing hard over that national intelligence report that says the Iraq war is creating more terrorists, not getting rid of them.

"I urge the Congress to not accept another white-washing of the issues and demand the whole truth. I urge the voters in the Second District to reject rosy campaign rhetoric, and demand the truth from my opponent about his failed record on making our nation more secure."

And the 60 something Kissling, carrying the Dem flag deep into enemy territory, is trying to raise some funds to air these radio spots around the district. He's also trying to appeal to conservative Dems who normally vote for Pearce by slamming the "borrow and binge" Congress.

Pearce came in with a 60% win in 2004. The Dems think this time the current environment could stop him short of that mark. If Kissling keeps firing them up, maybe they've got a shot.


Meanwhile, in a news release explaining his vote in favor of a bill that calls for a national voter photo id requirement, Pearce made a claim that begged for back-up but gave none:

"Election fraud is a growing crisis in New Mexico. The estimated fraud in the 2004 presidential election was 7%. People arrived at polling stations only to find out that someone else had used their name to vote-stealing their most fundamental right as an American." Pearce said.

Seven percent of the votes cast were fraudulent? Where does that come from? Pearce did not say. Maybe out of thin air, as GOP NM U.S. Attorney David Iglesias had a task force look into election fraud and reported nothing significant. Using Steve's calculation, seven percent of the votes in a 500,000 turnout election would mean 35,000 were cast fraudulently. Man, if that's true Iglesias is sitting on the investigation of a lifetime.

We've said it before (to the catcalls of the nonbelievers) but the problem in America and New Mexico today is not massive numbers of people voting fraudulently, but getting people to vote at all. (There are problems with getting folks properly registered.) Just took at the sinking long-term voter turnout trends. If you don't believe me, ask David Iglesias. And if you think photo ID's are on the easy street to becoming the law of the land, think again. A Georgia court has ruled against that state's photo law.


Who are the only four NM congressional incumbents to be ousted by voters since 1970? We posed that query Tuesday and promised lunch to the first correct response. Well, appropriately enough for a political blog, it turned out to be a horse race.

ABQ attorney David Bucholtz beat out onetime reporter Jake Arnold by just 11 minutes. Another former reporter, Valerie Kimble of Socorro, was our show horse. Ryan Quinn of ABQ ("Love the blog!) gets an honorable mention for also getting it right, but Bucholtz gets the free lunch. Those who read the blog in the early morning had a better chance than others, so I may be reported to the Pajamahadeen Committee Overseeing Blog Contests.

And who were the victims of the voters' wrath? On the senate side, in 1976 Joe Montoya was ousted by Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. Then, in 1982, Jeff Bingaman did it to Schmitt. On the House side, in 1970 Harold Runnels defeated one term congressman Ed Foreman down south. The final one was the toughest to guess and had readers heading to their Almanacs. In 1998 GOP Rep. Bill Redmond, who had been elected in a fluke to the northern congressional seat, was defeated by Tom Udall who continues to hold the seat.

Political oldtimer and lobbying legend James "Bud" Mulcock called the contest, "pretty sneaky as (Congressmen) Johnny Walker and Tom Morris were both defeated in '68" and we asked for the victims from 1970 forward.

Bud, I'm not sneaky. I'm just not as old as you.

This is the home of Campaign 06'. Back at ya' tomorrow.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

High Drama For Heather; Gambles With New TV Ad; Insiders Say Race Tightening; Karl Rove Coming Here: Journal Poll Sunday, And: "Ninja Cat" Campaigns 

Rep. Wilson
There are more signs that the intense race for the ABQ congressional seat is getting even tighter. GOP Rep. Heather Wilson has hit the TV screens with yet another spot that she asserts shows her "independence" from the unpopular President, insiders report that polls now show the race in the dead heat range and, a reliable source reports, there will be a Saturday ABQ visit to rally the troops on behalf of Heather from Bush political architect Karl Rove.

But the main piece of evidence is her new TV ad on stem cell research. It raised political eyebrows here as it signaled that Wilson apparently believes she now needs to take calculated risks in order to secure a fifth, two year term.

She tells the audience of her summer vote to override President Bush's veto of a bill increasing funding for stem cell research, further proving, she says, that she is not tied to the hip of Bush whose approval rating is only in the high 30's in the moderate district. (The veto was not overridden.)

"This is a risky ad. Stem cell research is fiercely opposed by many religious conservatives. It could turn some of them off to hear her supporting it. Some could even decide to not vote in the race," said one of our veteran Alligators monitoring each and every tick of this race which features Democrat and Attorney General Patricia Madrid as Wilson's rival.

"The ad tells me that we are in a dead heat. Madrid may be even bouncing into the lead in some of the polls. Wilson has not been able to get the yoke of Bush off of her neck. The stem cell spot tries again. It is a tough position for her--she must shed Bush yet hold on to all her Republicans," offered another Alligator.

One campaign veteran pointed out yet another angle. "The stem cell pitch not only is dangerous because it fiddles with some of her R support, but it could also turn off evangelicals and Catholic Hispanics who are Democrats and have voted for her in the past." They analyzed.


It is between the rock and the hard place time for Heather and R's in competitive districts across America as Bush and the no-way-out Iraq war shows no signs of diminishing as key issues in the Nov. 7 election. You can bet the R's are going to do the best they can to change that in the final weeks of the campaign.

"Wilson will likely go to national security. The R's will call it the fight against terrorism, while the Dems will call it fear tactics. But that's where we appear headed. She needs to keep up the ethics attacks on Patsy, but also change the subject off of Iraq and Bush. The terror war has that potential," explained our campaign veteran.

The national security issue is polling better with R's than Dems and it is swing Democrats Wilson needs, along with an enthused Republican base to secure the victory. But she doesn't need all those D's, just some. Maybe she can start her move by grabbing some of them with security.

Karl Rove
Enthusing the base will be one of the jobs (along with raising money) of White House chief political adviser Karl Rove when he drops into River City and visits Wilson campaign headquarters mid-morning on Saturday. Before he gets here, he will no doubt be briefed on the problems R's are having getting motivated, on the Wall Street Journal reporting recently that Heather's ground organization is not what it has been in the past and signs that the ethics attacks against Madrid may have done most of the damage they are going to do.

One sign that the Wilson ground game has not kicked in yet is the signs themselves. Where are they? At this time two years ago, say campaign insiders, yellow yard signs saying, "Another Home for Heather," dotted the landscape of the Big Duke City from the Heights to the Valley. But, so far, it is Madrid's logo popping up all over the place. It is that kind of anecdotal evidence that is giving Madrid's camp ammo to keep their troops fired up.


And even more anticipation brewed Monday as word circulated that pollster Brian Sanderoff is in the field this week and will have the latest ABQ Journal poll this Sunday. His first survey had it for Heather by three points. Wilson has never been tied or behind in an ABQ Journal poll. (Correct me if I am wrong, Brian.) If Madrid has closed the gap even one point there will be joy in the Democratic wards. If she is further back hopes will not fade, but enthusiasm might. If she is tied or in the lead, there will be an absolute feeding frenzy with the D's, who have the voter registration edge, issuing a call to arms and urging all wayward D's to come home to Madrid, even if they are lukewarm.

AG Madrid
Let's bottom line the deal to date. Wilson is showing signs of wear and tear. That Temple Albert debate with Madrid is probably part of it. Whenever a challenger holds their own, as Madrid is widely acknowledged to have done, it can only help. And as we blogged above, Heather just cannot seem to shake Bush and is still playing defense on that key issue.

But an incumbent has many weapons at their disposal, including a superior war chest. Also, incumbents rarely lose. Only two U.S. Reps and two senate incumbents have been defeated in our state since 1970. And Heather Wilson has proved time and again that she surges at the end, after surviving various campaign scares. (The first to email me those defeated, or if we missed any, gets a free lunch.)

Wilson maintains that this campaign is about her independence and it truly is, but not just in her relentless efforts to separate herself from the White House. She truly stands alone in this election year; the top of her ticket is flaccid; the state is led by the most powerful Democratic Governor in state history; she faces an opponent who takes the beating and keeps on ticking and Senator Domenici, who hand-picked Heather for the seat in 1998, can only do so much.

In Election Year 2006 Heather Wilson is on her own in fending off the sharks in the waters. Never has she been surrounded by more of them.


Word came late Monday from KOB-TV confirming our report earlier in the day that chances were vanishing for any live TV debate between Big Bill and GOP contender John Dendahl. Talks for such an event have broken down with the usual fingerpointing accompanying the episode. There will apparently be no face-to-face meeting at a public forum between the two major gubernatorial candidates. And that is a modern New Mexico first.


That race for state land commissioner, one of the few down-ballot races providing any suspense, is a real cat war. First, Dem hopeful Jim Baca trots out "Jerry the Cat," announcing his feline is firmly in his corner, despite allegations that it has been ignored in favor of the Baca dogs, allegations supported when Baca formed a "Bowsers for Baca" group. Then came incumbent GOP land boss Pat Lyons with "Zoe the Cat," who promised to claw Jerry into the pound.

Now that Lyons (lions, cats, get it?) has unloaded negative radio spots against him, Baca is back with more catty chatter. He says a "Ninja Cat" has suddenly shown up at his house (pictured here) to protect Jerry the Cat as the campaign claws come out.

Ninja Cat seems appropriately named. The people variety of Ninja originated from small groups of villages defending themselves against feudal Samurai by using guerilla tactics against a better armed enemy.

If Lyons is anything, he is "better armed" than Baca, holding a war chest north of $500,000, while Baca struggles to reach the $300,000 mark. Now if Ninja Cat knows how to raise money, Zoe and Lyons may really start to see the fur fly. No matter what, we assume Jim and Pat will continue to fight like cats...and dogs.

Speaking of which...Baca is up today with a radio ad answering Lyons' blistering radio attack saying Lyons is the "business agent" for the oil and gas industry. Water seems to be a theme of both hit pieces with Lyons using a hurricane for sound effects and Baca using a toilet bowl sounder to flush Lyons' "credibility" down the toilet. Isn't modern politics inspiring?

Your news, humor, comments and corrections are always welcome. Keep us in the loop. Drop an email at the link at the top of the page, and stop by again soon.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Dendahl & Guv: Never The Twain Shall Meet? The Debate Breakdown, Plus: Bush Nephew Is All For One, But Not One For All, And: Yes, We Have No Saguaros 

Something remarkable may occur in the so far quite unremarkable Campaign of 2006. There is a real possibility that Big Bill and his GOP Guv rival, John Dendahl, may never step foot on the same stage together--not on a live TV debate, not on a tape delayed TV debate, not even at interest group forums where hopefuls for the state's top job have traditionally met.

"We have no joint appearances scheduled with him," a spokesman for the Big Bill campaign said of Dendahl. Not one? "Something may come up, but the schedule as it stands now has no such events."

I posed the question after the New Mexican reported (registration required) that the Guv was weighing appearing on one live TV debate. But over the weekend even that prospect dimmed. The Guv's camp nixed the live TV debate and instead offered to appear with Dendahl October 15th at the Congregation Albert, an event scheduled for 11 on a Sunday morning. TV could carry it live or tape delay it, but only if both sides agreed. Because of bickering over the rules for such an encounter, there is a chance the event may not occur at all--not on TV or even as a
debate for those in the hall.

What caught the blog eye was not the no-debate strategy by the Guv's camp--that's to be expected with a 30 point lead--but no joint appearances anywhere? Not even before the farm bureau, the oil and gas association or other traditional venues for a gubernatorial clash?

Maybe something will change, but the temperatures are going to have be turned down before it does. Dendahl, missing in action for weeks now, rose up and said his foe is transforming from an "800 pound gorilla to a 300 pound chicken." Big Bill campaign boss Dave Contarino, responding to Dendahl's' demand that if the candidates do appear together at Temple Albert that they should only be allowed to take notes and not bring any prepared text, declared:

"The Governor has a list of accomplishments 10 miles long. (Dendahl's) background of accomplishments can be written on a blank piece of a notepad."

Does anyone get the idea that these guys really don't like each other?

Dendahl will get some sympathy for forcing the debate issue, but he's not in much of a position to bargain. If he turns down the Temple Albert appearance, he could become the first major party Guv candidate in modern history to not appear with his rival. If he does appear, he may have to agree not to have it televised, but he would still get the opportunity of trying to trip up the Guv. If that occurred he would not need live TV; any event adding even an ounce of drama to this lackluster race would be broadcast so loudly it would wake the bears about to begin their winter hibernation in the Sandia's.


Sparks flew between Big Bill and GOP opponent John Sanchez at the 2002 Congregation Albert Guv forum

George P. Bush
Meanwhile, Dendahl didn't get any favors from presidential nephew George P. Bush who flew into ABQ for a Friday fundraiser for GOP secretary of state nominee Vickie Perea. Bush was given the chance on KRQE-TV to endorse other R hopefuls, including Dendahl, but demurred. The son of Florida Governor Jeb Bush explained that the "party invited me" to campaign on Perea's behalf and that he goes "where ever they want me."

Dendahl might have pined for a presidential nephew endorsement seeing how the polls show his campaign has yet to consolidate the GOP base, but ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson was probably sighing in relief that she was not singled out for a blessing by a Bush. The Prez's unpopularity is a chief concern of Wilson who has not been able to close the deal against Dem hopeful Patricia Madrid who is playing on significant anti-Bush sentiment in the ABQ district.


Vickie Perea made a game effort to corner her Dem secretary of state opponent Friday, but the effort was for naught. Vickie emphatically stated her support for a photo voter ID requirement in the state, apparently expecting Bernalillo County Clerk Herrera to take the opposite tack. But Mary hopped on Vickie's ID bandwagon saying she too was in favor, although most legislative Dems are not on board. Was Herrera thinking this thing is going nowhere in Santa Fe and it was safe to go for it on the trail? Or does she disagree with NM as well as congressional Dems who voted against a similar national measure last week?

Whatever the case, it was another example of Herrera's independent streak and a reason she remains a heavy favorite to take over as the state's chief elections officer, not to mention that that no R has prevailed for the post in a gazillion years. Last year Herrera enraged liberal Dems by initially opposing the all-paper ballot system the Legislature has approved and which takes effect this election. On that one, Herrera now says she supports the all-paper system.

Perea has raised a couple of hundred thousand bucks and will hit the mailboxes heavy. The Republican National Committee, as again witnessed by the nephew Bush visit, has singled her out for support, hoping to take over the office which is important in a swing Presidential state. But the focus on Perea has been questioned by strategists who see the state auditor and treasurer's jobs as more likely pick-ups for the R's in a scandal plagued year. If Vickie wins, the naysayers will eat crow, but if she goes down don't be surprised to see the RNC and the state party questioned over its choice of direction.


I thought the offending Saguaros were all gone, but there they were on a Saturday night TV spot. The Saguaros, in case you missed it, had the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee running for cover and into the TV editing room when their spot attacking Rep. Wilson was dotted with Saguaros in the background. Trouble is the Saguaro is native to Arizona, but not NM. The DCCC moved to remove the offending plant, but it must have missed KASA-TV which aired the politically incorrect ad on its 9 p.m. Saturday news. (When it aired on KOB-TV at 10 p.m. the Saguaros were gone.)

The incident did gave the campaign spinners a chance to use humor for a change, instead of borderline hate. The DCCC spokeswoman chimed in: "Unlike George Bush and Heather Wilson, the cactus had an exit strategy."

Yeah, but based on the KASA incident, it seems to be having as hard of a time getting out of New Mexico as Bush is in Iraq.

A spokesman for Rep. Wilson jabbed: "Patsy's liberal supporters found themselves in a prickly situation with a commercial that is still wrong."

Right. But is that anywhere as "prickly" a situation as a four-term House member not being able to close out a race with just weeks to go?

Maybe it was fortunate that the DCCC made their minor screw-up early in the game. Remember October 2004? I sure do. That's when the national Dems came with a disastrous spot putting the faces of Osama Bin Laden and Heather together, blowing any chance they had. Now that was a prickly situation.


The Survey USA poll is the Rodney Dangerfield of its ilk--it doesn't get any respect. The poll, conducted by automatic phone calling, not person-to-person, came out Friday on KOB-TV. But the political pros say be cautious. So do major news organizations like the Associated Press which does not report the Survy USA results as it does other polls. For the record, the numbers had Wilson at 51%, Madrid at 46% and undecided at 3%. Heather ahead is a reasonable conclusion, but over 50% and hardly any undecided? Not likely. And that is the peril of automatic phone polls. But the earth won't freeze over because of it and the survey, despite its shortcomings, does give a reasonable look at the big trends in the races and therefore is worth tracking.


Sen. Sanchez
It is State Senator Bernadette Sanchez (D-ABQ), not Chavez as we erred in our blog last week on Sen. Tsosie. Between looking at the service record of the late U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez for a report on Senator Bingaman, and reading ABQ Mayor Chavez's latest on the ABQ school bond election, we seemed to have had a lot of Chavez on our mind...

News, comments, corrections? Send them from the email link at the top of the page. Back tomorrow with more from the home of Campaign 06' and the fascinating world of New Mexico politics. Hope you can be here.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tsosie's Choice: State Senator Wants It All, Plus: Latest NM Polls & Insider Campaign Reports, Also: Your Blog In The Power Circle 

Senator Tsosie
State Senator Leonard Tsosie has a big appetite for politics. He wants it all, and it's drawing the notice of the Santa Fe wall-leaners who are wondering how Tsosie, who is seeking a seat on the Navajo Tribal Council in November, will manage to stay in the senate if, as expected, he wins the council slot. Let's take it to Roundhouse where we get the latest from our in-the-know informer.

"Tsosie is heavily favored to win the Council seat, but tribal law states he must give up his senate seat if he goes on the council. If elected, Tsosie plans to challenge tribal law. He would like to hold both his senate seat and serve on the council." Reports our watchful source.

Tsosie, an attorney, represents much of Indian Country in NW NM and is well-known for his penchant for lengthy debate. He also has strong liberal credentials. This past session he joined with Sen. Bernadette Sanchez of ABQ to kill a controversial bill regulating the payday loan industry that Tsosie said was toothless. First elected in 1992, Tsosie was also one of a handful of senators who in 2000 backed then-Senator Richard Romero in his successful effort to oust then-Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon.

Insiders say a Tsosie departure would mean Big Bill would get to name his replacement. Tsosie was re-elected to a four year term in a two to one 04' landslide. How much power can Leonard Tsosie have? We'll keep you posted.


New Mexico has 173,483 Indian citizens, which compose nearly 10.5% of the state's entire population.


The New Mexican is reporting that the Big Bill camp will debate Republican foe John Dendahl, but just once.

With a commanding lead in the polls, Big Bill probably can get away with
not meeting Dendahl, but it would be a blow to the election process if he did. The campaign has not decided on which of two TV stations that have offered time will get the debate.


Here's the latest on the jockeying going on by ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson as she tries to usher thru a bill dealing with the Administration's wiretapping program and not appear to be embracing Bush who remains unpopular in the moderate ABQ district. Heather's Dem rival, Attorney General Patricia Madrid, is joining Bush and Wilson at the hip in nonstop video action.


While the national R's are spinning that the Prez is on the comeback trail, there is no sign of yet it in the latest NM poll. Survey USA, teaming with KOB-TV, regularly surveys the state and they find Bush's approval at 39%, basically no change from the ABQ Journal poll in late August that had him at 38%. The Survey USA poll was taken September 14-17, giving ample time for the 9-11 events and security speeches Bush gave to sink in. The margin of error in the survey is + or - 4%.

Political pros watching the race say Bush below 40% is the high danger mark for Heather, but anything 45% or under is in the red zone.

Tonight Survey USA will release the first of three polls it will conduct on the Wilson-Madrid race. You can catch it on 770 KKOB-AM radio at 5:45 p.m. or on the 6 & 10 p.m. KOB-TV newscasts. If it shows anything crazy, I will blog a report for you.

You may think you know everything there is to know about our political gal pals. But maybe not. Here's 15 things about Heather, and I bet there's one or two that will have you saying: "I didn't know that!" And here's nine about Patsy that may give you the same reaction.


Those of us who write about the ABQ Congress showdown from a nonpartisan standpoint still have a huge bias. We all want the race to stay close. If it doesn't, this election year will be one big bust as no other headline contests are even close. For those hoping for a nip and tuck battle to the finish line, an item from the National Journal this week will keep their hearts fluttering. It's from the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York:

"Reynolds' confidence that Republicans would be able to hold its majority did not extend to a willingness to predict the outcome of any individual races. At points, he betrayed concern. He said New Mexico's Heather Wilson is involved in "one of our toughest races" against Democrat Patsy Madrid."

You don't need polls on this one--just listen to the politicians.


Back on the Big Bill trail, here's a direct Alligator report that shows just how determined he is to get a landslide re-elect:

"The Governor has 20 canvassers out every day, seven days a week, in Albuquerque and the surrounding area. They are knocking doors and giving out literature for everyone they have literature for. That means everyone except Madrid and Senator Bingaman. Federal law prohibits that. They are also including flyers for the local Democratic State Rep candidate, if they have a race."

Good stuff. If you have some, send it our way.


Back to Heather. Insiders say she will hit the mailboxes with a deluge of 1.3 million pieces this campaign. She is also asking GOP state reps to set up events in their districts for her to attend. Meantime, the Madrid campaign has been having special canvasses every Saturday for volunteers that will continue thru E-Day.

Top strategists tell me they expect a low turnout this year, falling well below 50% of the registered voters. That means the ground game may be just as important, if not more, than the much more noticeable air war you are seeing on your TV screen.


We try to shy away from trumpeting our own horn, but we are not adverse when others do it, so thanks to the New Mexico Business Weekly for this honor:

"Congratulations Joe!

You have been selected as one of the New Mexico Business Weekly's 2007 Power Brokers. You are in an elite group of 100 influential people selected because of their business and community accomplishments.

"You will be recognized at our prestigious Power Party on September 21st at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum."

This is the second time your blog has been named to the power broker list. Funny, I don't feel very powerful. Maybe I should stop comparing myself to Big Bill, or just admit that the blog is written by the Alligators who more often than not have the real power. But we are pleased at the kind notice as it numbs the sting of the arrows occasionally fired our way from both sides of the aisle; something you learn to humbly accept, even if you only occupy the sidelines of our beloved and ancient La Politica.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What They Make: Hill Salaries Go Public, And: Poll Sends Big Bill Over Magic 60%, Plus: Lyons Mauls Baca; This Is Ground Zero For New Mexico Politics 

One of the best kept semi-secrets of La Politica is no longer. For years, the pay for the thousands of congressional staffers on Capitol Hill and those based in the states, has been as hard to find as an enchilada in Des Moines, Iowa. So hard to find, in fact, that I spent hours in the dusty confines of the basement of UNM's Zimmerman Library back in February of 05' combing through dense volumes that contained the precious information. It took the company of a Senior Alligator and a sturdy calculator to figure out just what the holders of these often coveted jobs were pulling down and to write a two-part blog. But no more.

A new Web site is up that does the digging for us. You still have to do some math to figure out the annual salary totals because the Congress still won't release annual salaries. That said, the information is much more easily available and spares me another visit on your behalf to the cramped quarters of Zimmerman.

The annual salaries of our U.S. reps and senators are made fully public. They make $165,200 a year. A staffer usually can't exceed that amount, but several serving New Mexico's congressional delegation come close. For example, the chiefs of staff for NM Senators Domenici and Bingaman come in at about $160,000.

And for all you reporters who are crying in your beer or caffeinated Snapples, how about a nice press secretary job with Senator Pete? Chris Gallegos has that job and is now taking in nearly $110,000 a year. But no one, especially the press types who receives Gallegos' flurry of nearly daily press missives, is going to begrudge him for that.

We've come full circle on what we are paying our congressional toilers. When I served on the Hill as communications director for then-Congressman Manuel Lujan (R-NM) in the early 80's, the press was periodically handed the salary of each staffer and promptly printed it in the ABQ newspapers. Manuel was a generous guy, so guess who paid for lunch when I got back home?

But not all of our Congress folk are overly generous. You can figure out who falls in that category by visiting the site. As for me, Zimmerman Library is a great place, but I will keep my future visits to the top level and be glad to keep the basement in my memory bank.


It's not big money that drives most of the congressional staffers; it's the power, or at least being around it. On that score, our Tuesday blog noting that NM Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman ranks 44 out of 100 in the senate "power rankings," one his critics think should be higher, one emailer rises to the defense of the Silver City solon. He says take a look at the power rankings in the "legislation" category. We did and found that Jeffclimbed the ladder significantly. When rated on ability to get his legislation through, Bingaman is #9 out of 100. The power rankings in which he came in 44th also include "influence" and "position."

As for Senator Pete, he ranks #6 in the power rankings and #2 out of 100 in the legislation rankings. Pete #2 and Jeff #9 for little ol' New Mexico? Now you know why half the state seems to be on the federal payroll. Not that we're complaining, senators. In fact, just ignore that comment and go into that committee and vote for more pork. And have a nice day.


One more note from the Bingaman beat. Jeff will indeed become the second longest serving NM U.S. Senator, as we blogged Tuesday, if he wins his fifth term Nov. 7. We told you he would immediately leapfrog over Clinton Anderson. But we did not mention that he would have to serve about three and a half years of his new term before he eclipsed the record of the late great Senator Dennis Chavez. Considering Bingaman is a regular jogger, you can expect him to make it, replacing Chavez on the #2 all-time hit list and also pushing Clint down a notch.


It takes million of campaign dollars to get that congressional salary of $165K and we have more news for you today on that front. Our Alligator tracking the spending of the national Democratic and Republican congressional committees checks in with their buy on KOAT-TV for the hotly contested Wilson-Madrid ABQ U.S. House battle. The D's, he reports, will pour $560,000 on the ABC affiliate for ads on behalf of Madrid that began Tuesday and will continue through Election Day. Meanwhile, the R's are pumping $515,00 into the station. And that's on top of what we reported Tuesday--over a million bucks from the R's on KRQE-KASA and over a half million there for the D's.

Owning a TV station in an election year is like cashing a blank check.


He has hit the magic number in one poll. Can he hold it Election Night? The Rasmussen survey this week has Big Bill pulling 61% of the vote, with his GOP rival, John Dendahl, slipping to 26%. (Poll taken Sep. 7; MOE +-4.5%) The 60% is seen as a barometer for the Guv's Prez hopes. A number below that might give some room to his foes to argue that they are stronger contenders.

Dendahl has slipped from the low 30's in the last Rasmussen taken in late June. His comments accusing NM educators of teaching "socialism," (since retracted) as well as comments regarding Hispanics and DWI laws, could be the reasons for his decline.

In that same poll Senator Bingaman holds the lead over Allen McCulloch, 56% to 32%. Besides whether Richardson reaches 60%, the only other suspense at the top of the ticket thus far is whether Bingaman or Bill will lead the ticket. Hey, we're junkies we've got to have something to keep us interested.


Commissioner Lyons
One race that is starting to pique our interest is the contest for state land commissioner. Nothing like a negative attack to bring attention to a race, and that's just what GOP incumbent land boss Pat Lyons unloaded this week. His 60 second spot, posted here for your delight, calls his opponent, former land commissioner and ABQ mayor Jim Baca, a "catastrophe," and lists a litany of alleged errors Baca has committed in his lengthy public service career. The spot has a dash of comedy, but Baca isn't seeing the humor.

"When people hear that spot they should remember it was paid for by the oil and gas industry." He told me late Tuesday. That was a swipe at Lyons' half million dollar war chest and the heavy energy contributions that helped him get it to that size.

Baca has never shied away from going negative. His Web site dedicated to panning Pat has been up a couple of weeks.

If this one is getting the juices flowing, you can see the two land hopefuls tonight in ABQ at a 7 p.m. forum at First Unitarian Church at 3710 Carlisle NE.

Help us write the blog. Send your news, comments, corrections and even criticisms via the email link at the top of the page. See ya' tomorrow.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On The Bingaman Beat: It's The Quiet Campaign As He Shoots For Term #5, Plus: High Times In Heather-Patsy Battle, And: My Tuesday Bottom Lines 

Sen. Bingaman
Jeff Bingaman's tortoise-like crawl to become New Mexico's second longest serving U.S. senator in state history continues uninterrupted and it's about as exciting to watch as paint dry. But Bingaman has not been taking the prospect of a fifth, six year term for granted. He spent the August break touring conservative rural NM where any threat to his re-elect would first arise, and now he's topped it off with a series of regional radio spots aimed specifically at local issues.

Bingaman is working to nail down a group of voters who left unattended can be very dangerous to a Democrat. 04' Prez contender John Kerry did fine in NM cities, but the White House strategy of galvanizing rural NM put President Bush over the top. Heavy statewide TV and direct mail will complete his over $3.5 million plus campaign.

Bingaman turns 63 on October 3 and will surpass Senator Clinton Anderson and take #2 on the all-time NM senate service list if, as expected, he gets the nod Nov. 7. (Sen. Domenici is first.) Some insiders point to his 62% re-elect in 2000 and think he will again lead the NM Dem ticket with a similar victory. He was also the top Dem vote-getter in this year's June primary, even outpolling Mr. Organization himself, Governor Big Bill.

His GOP foe, Dr. Allen McCulloch of Farmington, has yet to mount a broad-based campaign, although he has stepped up his attacks. McCulloch's only hope to put the race in play is to tap his family's oil and gas fortune, but with Bingaman so far ahead in the polls, is it worth it?

McCulloch asserts that Bingaman spouts a "radical left-wing" agenda. While Bingaman is indeed a lifelong liberal, repeated efforts over the years to paint him as a danger to the Republic have faltered. The accusations come up against a politician with a low-key, approachable personality, a track record for delivering federal funds to this heavily government-dependent state and not overly involving himself in the emotional issues of the day. Day-to-day finds him concentrating on bringing home the bacon and honing expertise on important if mundane issues like water and renewable energy.

Dr. McCulloch
Are voters being deceived by Bingaman, as McCulloch implies? It's hard to see how, as his voting record is out there. It is easy to understand GOP frustration. Bingaman was one of the few senators to vote against the resolution authorizing the Iraq war and continues to draw high approval ratings from groups such as the ACLU. But New Mexicans are an independent minded lot and seem to see a lot of themselves in Bingaman. For example, the senator has displeased liberal backers by voting for a tougher personal bankruptcy law and signing on to an energy bill that provided tax breaks to Big Oil. He is also known for being studious and showing up for work. An added bonus for Bingaman in this scandal-plagued year is his reputation for integrity.

His opponents point out that he comes with the baggage of long-term incumbency and is beholden to the special interests. As the senior Democratic member of the Energy Committee, Bingaman now ranks #7 out of 535 members of Congress in the amount of oil and gas money his campaign has received. (ABQ GOP U.S. Rep. Wilson ranks 20th.) Also, Bingaman's power ranking of 44 out of 100 is too low, they argue, for a senator with his length of service and that it is Domenici who is doing the heavy lifting for the state. And there is the simple argument that 24 years is enough for anyone.

Bingaman's congressional career is characterized by opponents as pedestrian, but it has been punctuated by flashes of true independence and even bravery, as evidenced by his lonely vote against the Iraq war; a vote that history may judge as one of the defining moments of his service.

But Bingaman is not yet concerned with what history says, but what the voters again say. However, if history is any guide, six more years on the banks of the Potomac are very likely for the senator who honors the tortoise as the hares come and go.


You've got to hand it to NM GOP executive director Marta Kramer. Without even a hint of irony, she unloaded on Dem congressional candidate Patsy Madrid after Sunday's debate between Madrid and GOP Rep. Heather Wilson:

“I was startled to hear our Attorney General laughing off illegal drug use. Madrid has set a terrible example for our children." Declared Marta.

But hold on. Wasn't it Republican Governor Gary Johnson who proposed considering legalizing heroin and cocaine and then revised it down to marijuana? Didn't GOP Guv candidate John Dendahl openly split with GOP Senator Pete Domenici over the legalized drug issue when Dendahl was party chair and backed Johnson on drugs?. And doesn't the drug issue still haunt GOP intra-party politics as seen when Dendahl said he did not want his position on drugs to be a campaign issue this year?

By saying she was "a child of the 60's" Madrid indicated she experimented with drugs. By way of contrast, Gary Johnson admitted in campaign 94' that in his youth he was a frequent cocaine user. He won in a landslide. The R's have plenty of ammo against Patsy and company, but the drug issue? That's what they call the big stretch.

And what about Heather toking up? Never touched the stuff, she says. And you just gotta believe her. Heather with a bong? You would have to be stoned to see it. But forget about the candidates getting high. What about Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico? Don't they need an escape from reality as they are bombarded day and night with negative 30 second TV ads? Somebody call Governor Gary. Maybe he can help out.


It's difficult tracking just when the national congressional committees will come with their onslaught of TV ads in the Madrid-Wilson race. One of the Alligators checking for us says he has confirmed a $530,000 buy from the national Dems for Patsy on CBS affiliate KRQE-TV and sister station KASA-TV; a buy that he says is scheduled to start today. And he reports an even biggger buy for Heather on those same stations from the national R's, reporting that they plan to spend over $1 million with a start date of Sept. 29. Keep in mind these figures do not include the other two major network affiliates.

TV buys are subject to change depending on polling and cash flow, but we are so close now to early voting that hard decisions have to be made. Also, the national money could conceivably be used to promote other NM races. But no one expects anything but all-Patsy-all-Heather-all-the-time...

Veteran ABQ writer Gene Grant blogs in with a correction on our coverage of the Madrid-Wilson Sunday face-off. He notes that Madrid's statement: (paraphrased) "Is that supposed to be the line that kills my campaign?" did not come, as we blogged and our early morning readers saw, in response to Wilson's question about the Rev. Al Sharpton, but to a question about drug use. TV coverage we heard seemed to indicate otherwise...It's not too early to remind you of our Election Night Coverage on KANW 89.1 FM in ABQ/Santa Fe. It will be our 19th consecutive year of anchoring wall-to-wall coverage for public radio, so be sure to join me and our political all-stars for all the action.

Thanks to Gene for the correction and to all my readers in New Mexico and across the nation who contribute here. We are the home of Campaign 06', featuring the best analysts, breaking news and the most fun. And we do it in our signature style--non-partisan and independent. Best of all, it's free!

Send me your news, comments and corrections via email link from the top of the page.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

No Homers, But A Few Hits As Heather & Patsy Do Their First Face-To-Face; We Have The Action, Plus: For Some, Election Day is Tomorrow 

Wilson & Madrid Debate
There were four hundred souls in the room for the first, highly-anticipated debate in the showdown for the ABQ congressional seat, but it was the thousands who watched the reviews on television who have the most say and what they saw were two candidates sticking mainly to tightly controlled scripts that more or less mimicked their ever-present 30 second TV spots.

The thunder over Dem hopeful Patricia Madrid's refusal to do more than one live TV debate (KOB-TV Oct. 24) will probably quiet down in light of the Congregation Albert square-off Sunday morning. After all, what's the difference between a pre-recorded 30 second spot and the 60 second spots delivered by the duo in real time before a studio audience?

Still, the event provided glimpses of the contrasting styles between the pair. Not that there was much. Both made a point of being forceful and speaking firmly. Both were decked out in their Ann Taylor business-best (Heather yellow and white; Patsy in black with a dash of yellow) and both landed their scripted jabs on Iraq and ethics at the appointed times.

There was the sideshow of the Madrid camp issuing a news release immediately after the confrontation trumpeting that their gal had decisively won the contest. (Neither did.) This from the side that refused to let the Sunday morning festivities be televised and has agreed to just the one live TV meeting. But one could forgive their enthusiasm, given Heather's record of easily dispatching her opponents in the debate format. But Madrid is not any opponent. Like Heather, she is a tough cookie and did what she had to do-- not commit the big error.

Heather also jumped the line, saying Madrid favors an "immediate" withdrawal of troops in Iraq, even though Madrid has never advocated that.


In a moment that told us more about where this campaign stands than any other, Heather trotted out the race card, saying the controversial Reverend Al Sharpton is coming to ABQ for an event with the black community.

"Sharpton is a racist, anti-Semitic, rabble rouser. So what I want to know is why doesn't it bother you to stand next to him when he endorses your candidacy for the Congress?" Wilson demanded of Madrid.

Madrid responded: "I will stand by any black member of this state...I intend to go to Washington to try and do right by them which is better than you've done, Ms. Wilson."

Madrid went on to say she was not aware that Sharpton was going to be involved in the campaign. Sharpton will be in ABQ September 30, but the newspapers are reporting that he has not been invited in regard to the 1st CD race.

Several Alligators, using their Tivo's to record all TV debate coverage, said they saw the Wilson race play as a sign that she was not just trying to garner some Jewish votes, but a sign that she is concerned that her Anglo Republican base is not sufficiently enthused with only weeks to go before the first votes are cast.

Overt racial politicking is a rarity in New Mexico. Madrid, to her detriment, stepped into it in her 94' bid for lieutenant governor. One wonders if this is a prelude of more of it to come. Wilson may want her consultants to tread carefully before going further into that thicket.


Both Wilson and Madrid were strong on their war presentations, with Heather polished and informed and Madrid turning on the moral indignation that one would expect.

The omnipresent ethics issue got the once over as well, but TV coverage largely ignored it, perhaps to the challengers benefit, as any issue that
isn't ethics seems to cut the Dems way.

No knockout was expected and none was delivered. The electorate, last polled at 45% to 42% with Heather leading, seems largely locked down and only a small group of undecided still to be heard from. It's unlikely Sunday's debate changed that and that this fierce contest will be decided on who gets their vote out. Of course, we offer the usual caveat: "Unless something unexpected happens." Sunday was not that day, but there's still about 50 left. Stay tuned.


Election Day is tomorrow for voters in the state's largest city. The Albuquerque Public Schools is asking for a five percent increase in property taxes to build two new high schools on the city's booming West Side and fix up a bunch of others. The $351 million bond issue is being pushed by proponents as "for the kids."

While the bond issue is expected to pass handily, not everyone is buying in. That nearly extinct species known as the "New Mexico Fiscal Conservative," nearly drowned in recent years by an orgy of spending on the state and local level, has surfaced to oppose the tax hike. We bring you the comments of the Rio Grande Foundation because if there's anything we don't like it is near unanimity on any election issue. True, it is about the kids, but it's also about the money. You decide. Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Thanks to photog Mark Bralley for the cool debate candids of Heather and Patsy gracing today's edition, and thanks to you for stopping by today.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Wrapping The Week: Clippings From My Newsroom Floor, Plus: The Photo You Thought Could Never Happen, And: A Dip Into The Blog Mailbag 

2006 NM State Fair
After an unpredictable detour over to the state auditor's race, New Mexico politics this weekend will steer back to the year's premier contest--Wilson vs. Madrid for the ABQ congressional seat. The duo will have their first high-profile appearance when they "debate" at Congregation Albert in ABQ Sunday morning. You know interest in their race is high when the congregation has to move the event to a bigger room. The first venue held 150, but the second accommodates 400.

Sunday's face off is a state political tradition, with the Jewish Brotherhood hosting major political players since the 60's. I've been to several since the 70's and often big headlines result. Let's see if this one produces any. If you are thinking about going, there's more information here.

While Patsy and Heather prepare for a big "free" media opportunity, their endless wave of paid media continues. KOAT-TV's "ad watch" is helping us keep up, fact-checking each of the ubiquitous 30 second spots. Here's the latest on Wilson's and Madrid's.


Another sign that the race is going to get even rougher is the comment that came in here that by referring to Rep. Wilson, I make her appear "more approachable." Well, I am not trying to promote anything by referring to the two ladies by their first names. It's simply a tradition that dates back decades to when NM was a much smaller state and when so many folks knew each other on a first name basis. That has obviously changed, but I think it's a custom that lends some civility to our times. And with all the negative campaigning, don't you think we need some?

Toney Anaya
This has to go on your list of "Things You Never Thought You Would See In Your lifetime." And here it is: a photo of former NM Democratic Governor Toney Anaya proudly wearing a T-shirt for a Republican candidate. I go back to the old days with Toney, having covered his first foray into political office in 74' for the UNM Daily Lobo when he was elected attorney general. He was and remains a staunch and proud liberal, but family comes first now and Toney is displaying his loyalty to Republican and conservative Jim Bibb, who is trying to following Toney's footsteps and become NM AG. I don't know who the fella posing with Toney is, but it is not Jim Bibb. Gary King, whose father was Governor for three terms, is the Dem nominee.

Politicos of both parties might get chest pains when they see this snapshot. Some Dems have even talked of Toney being a liability to Bibb in conservative areas. But there's a good case to be made that voters understand who is on the ballot and who is not. Meanwhile,we gotta thank Bibb for not hiding Toney away and putting up one of the more memorable photos of Campaign 06'. Now, will someone call the paramedics and take care of the heart patients?


Our mailbag was heavy this week as the political scene heated up. The Jeff Armijo affair evoked many responses, including one from a mailer who identified herself as Joyce Armijo, sister of Jeff , who withdrew from the Dem race for state auditor.

"For the sake of correct information, the allegations against Jeff are just that; allegations not "charges" as you stated in Thursday's reporting," wrote Joyce.

She is correct. Jeff faces allegations of sexual misconduct by two women, but no official "charges" have been brought against him and the allegations remain under investigation. Joyce Armijo goes on to refute speculation that her brother received some sort of "deal" to finally get out of the race.

"..Jeff has proven himself to NOT partake in the good ol' boy system--in fact, that was the very thing he was moving against..his campaign was for the people of New Mexico, for an independent individual not someone tied at the hip to the current administration. In fact, Jeff has also proven himself as a State employee before (getting the job with no movidas) and has earned State business (for his travel agency) the old-fashioned way--(eye-to-eye and meeting the customers needs).

"I know none of this makes for the sizzle and pop for media, but it is honesty and that is what defines us."

Joyce signs off as a "very proud sister" of Jeff Armijo. The Armijo's are a tight knit family and when one hurts, they all hurt. They stood with Jeff throughout the ordeal and continue to do so. He may not win elected office this year, but Jeff Armijo obviously already has what matters most in life.


Gary King for Attorney GeneralWhen readers think I have veered off course , they are quick to go to their keypads. Take this scolding from Barbara Longeway of Placitas, NM reacting to Thursday's blog on GOP secretary of state candidate Vickie Perea:

In Thursday's blog you ask the question: "The Big Push For Vickie Perea: What's That All About?" It's about the fact that New Mexicans are tired of being in the mud of dirty tricks and fraud in its so-called election system! It's no wonder that others in the U.S. think that New Mexico is actually another third world country. "Incorrectly programmed" machines that won't accept straight Republican votes; machines hidden in the trunks of election workers' cars; boxes of "lost" absentee ballots...the list is endless.

"Your charge that "the [RNC] wants a foothold in the election process in our key presidential swing state" shows bias and/or blindness to New Mexico's vast election problems. The so called foothold that Republicans want is an honest and even playing field...

"The Big Push For Vickie Perea?" The answer is Honesty and Fairness in New Mexico's election process."

Thanks Barbara. I would only add that I did not "charge" anything, but pointed out that the Republicans seek the power of the secretary's office to further their national ambitions. Nothing wrong with that, but not many people were aware of it. Now they are. And the more people know about their politics and government, the better.

Thanks to all who wrote this week. You can reach me from the mail link at the top of the page, so keep your news and views coming into the home of Campaign 06'. Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend in our wonderful Land of Enchantment.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Big Push For Vickie Perea: What's That All About? Plus: The Armijo Aftermath; Bloggers Will Miss Him, But Not The D's 

Vickie Perea
What's the deal with Vickie Perea? We're hearing that question a lot on the campaign trail and it's going to be heard more as word arrives that the Republican candidate for secretary of state is going to be the beneficiary of a high profile Washington D.C. event tonight featuring Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and NM Senator Domenici.

This will be Chairman Mehlman's second appearance on behalf of Vickie and will be held at the famous Monocle restaurant on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. On top of that, Presidential nephew George P. Bush will hold an ABQ fundraiser for Perea's down-ballot race September 22. By far, Vickie is getting more attention from the party heavies than the top of the ticket where Guv contender John Dendahl is trying to raise enough money to keep the lights on and where senate hopeful Allen McCulloch has been quietly treading water. But not Vickie. So, what's up?

Even though the R's have not won the secretary's office since 1928 and even though the betting line heavily favors Dem candidate and Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera, the Gators say the R's have been pumping up Vickie because the national party wants a foothold in the election process in our key presidential swing state. Never mind that their chances of success are unlikely, or the argument that they would be better off concentrating their efforts on more winnable races like auditor and treasurer. No, there seems to be a mild Vickie obsession.


Not that she didn't earn some attention. In the spring of 04' the lifelong Democrat and Los Lunas native and ex-ABQ city councilor very publicly switched parties and endorsed President Bush. If she was promised support in this year's race for doing so, it's been a promise kept.

Her campaign coffers are the heaviest of any of the down-ballot R's, (except for Land Commissioner Lyons) maybe even surpassing Dendahl's. While tonight's D.C. reception is billed as "free,"(according to a Dem fundraiser) insiders know that a Domenici-Mehlman appearance means they will be coughing up a thousand bucks or so for the evening's pleasure. That should take Perea over the $200,000 mark and enable her to run a pretty decent media campaign in October. The Herrera camp reports she has about fifty grand on hand with more coming in.

Perea's association with the evangelical Christian movement is well-known and is blessed by most R's while turning some Dems squeamish. She sits on the board of a university centered on biblical teachings. Evangelical Hispanics were a big power group for Bush in 04' but recent polls show his support dropping with them. Perhaps Perea could make some inroads with them in the Hispanic north. And perhaps pushing a Hispanic female Republican has some positive fallout for GOP Rep. Heather Wilson who faces Dem Patricia Madrid in the ABQ congressional race.

Still, the focus on Perea has caused quiet grumbling by some within the GOP who see opportunities down-ballot being frittered away. That won't bother Vickie who obviously knows a good deal when she sees one. At the pace she's going, John Dendahl might want to call her for a loan.

Wertheim, Armijo, Lujan
The party's over, at least for the bloggers and the political press. Jeff Armijo, as first reported here, dropped out of the Dem state auditor race Wednesday clearing the way for Big Bill to work to get more Dems to vote straight Democratic in November. Armijo is battling charges of sexual misconduct and his was the one dark spot for the D's in the down-ballot races.

The Armijo withdrawal, engineered by NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, is seen as most beneficial to Dem land commissioner hopeful Jim Baca who is locked in a tight battle with incumbent R Pat Lyons.

"A couple of thousand more straight Democratic votes could make the difference in the race," offered one Dem operative.

As for Armijo, as soon as he bailed Wednesday morning the speculation began on what kind of "deal" he may have been offered, including that Jeff could get help to pay off legal fees he accumulated in his fight to stay on the ballot; a state government job or business for his travel agency. None of that could really happen, could it?

D's expressed confidence that with State Rep. Hector Balderas taking Jeff's place their party was again positioned to take the post, despite the financial scandals that have been in the headlines. They believe, and not without evidence, that party affiliation will play a large role as the voters go further down the ballot. It usually does, unless a candidate has a big shadow lurking over him, as Armijo would have.

Big Bill and company will help load up the Balderas bank account and hope that R's let CPA Lorenzo Garcia do his own thing which means doing it with not much financial help from his party. Hey, maybe Lorenzo can piggyback on Vickie Perea's big D.C. party with Pete. Man, that place could end up jammed.


The Armijo candidacy had disaster written all over it, but the candidate may end up doing New Mexico one favor by clearing up just what constitutes a legal withdrawal from the ballot. The secretary of state argued that his news release faxed around by a PR company was the real deal and that Jeff was out. But Jeff argued that written notification was needed. The law is unclear. Whoever is elected secretary of state, Herrera or Perea, should tackle the question and clear up this particular mystery of La Politica. Aren't things confused enough around here?


Let's squeeze one more in--Wednesday's Wall Street Journal {PDF} spotlighting the Madrid-Wilson congressional race. Is that thing getting a lot of national ink, or what? And the whispering circuit is also busy with talk of even stronger ethics attacks coming soon against Madrid.

And you thought you had nothing to look forward to.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments from the link at the top of the page.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Update: Jeff Armijo Gets Out Of State Auditor Race; Rep. Balderas Replaces Him on Ballot 

As we broke the news to New Mexico this morning, (see below) Jeff Armijo has once and for all ended his candidacy as the Dem nominee for state auditor. Details are here.

I will have more for you later.

This Could Be It: Sources Say Armijo To End Auditor Bid--Really, Plus: The Iraq Crack: Heather Seeks Cover, Plus: Even More NM Politics 

Speaker Lujan
Is this finally the end? It seems so. Sources checking in here late Tuesday night said an ABQ news conference is set for 8:30 this morning at which embattled state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo will once again withdraw from the race, but this time it will be for keeps.

NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, Dem Party Chair Wertheim and Armijo are set to appear, say the sources, at the news conference at a hotel near the ABQ Sunport at which Armijo will finally throw in the towel. That would mean State Rep. Hector Balderas would take his place as the auditor candidate and avoid a nightmare for the Dems who fear sexual misconduct allegations against Armijo would mar the November ticket.

Armijo filed suit when the Dems replaced him on the ballot saying his Aug. 29 withdrawal announcement sent via news release was not a legal withdrawal and he wanted to stay in. The Dems balked, naming Balderas as his replacement and also filing suit to make that move legal. The court cases would become moot if Armijo bails out this morning.

If this comes down as we are being told, it would mean the Balderas northern House seat would go vacant after November. No Republican is running. Tomas Garcia, a staffer for Dem Rep. Tom Udall, has been mentioned as a possible Balderas replacement. The pick would ultimately be made by the Governor.

We will update the story with fresh details as they become available.


There were interesting primary election battles across the nation Tuesday night.
All the latest results are here.

Heather Wilson
When there's blood on the streets and coffins coming home, it can't be ignored. And it won't be in Campaign 06'. After two months of clobbering her Dem opponent over ethics, GOP ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson is starting to stake out new ground on the number one issue facing the USA: the no-end-in-sight, no-way-out Iraq war. She did so in an interview with ABQ Tribune D.C. correspondent James Brosnan, asserting that in 2002 and contrary to a Madrid TV charge, she did indeed question the pre-war intelligence on the war at a behind-closed-doors meeting with CIA officials and was skeptical about what she heard.

Asked why she has not previously revealed this, Wilson said: "No one asked me."

Well, just about everyone is now asking what went wrong including, of course, Wilson's foe, Attorney General Patricia Madrid who is pounding Heather on the war as hard as Heather is hammering Madrid's alleged failures to investigate state corruption.

Asked why she went ahead and voted to authorize the war when she was skeptical of the intelligence, she said because "CIA Director Tenet did assure us he had a "high degree of confidence" that Iraq was developing biological weapons."

That sounds like a co-ordinated Republican response, as Vice-President Cheney also recently pointed the finger at the now long-gone CIA director.

Readers here won't be caught off-guard by Wilson's shift. We predicted as much when we scanned polling numbers in early August and wrote:

"With these polling numbers, Heather's hawkish tone (on Iraq) could be subject to change--not much, but some. Don't say we didn't tell you."

With the polling numbers still not where they need to be, we could be in for Wilson breaking even more new ground on Iraq.


Heather's new statements come as Madrid airs TV ads saying the congresswoman never questioned the Prez's Iraq policy. So far, Wilson has not cut ads to directly respond, apparently preferring not to ignite a full-scale debate on the issue which cuts deeply against her and the R's. But her newspaper interview signals she is now seeking cover on the war; the most serious threat to her congressional career since she took the seat in 1998. In other words, Iraq could be to Wilson what ethics could be to Madrid.

Wilson can be expected to continue her ethics mantra, but she had to be disappointed to see the latest ABQ Journal poll, reporting that 61% of New Mexicans did not believe there is any more corruption here than in other states. Voters seem numbed by all the shenanigans here and in D.C.

Ethics matters, no doubt about it. But the historic and unpopular war matters more as thousands of young men and women perish or are wounded. Madrid, with the help of a disgruntled electorate, has forced Wilson to crack the door on Iraq, but she will need to get more than her foot inside. Whether she does, could determine the outcome of the contest.


Madrid's decision not to do a series of live TV debate comes to mind as Wilson backtracks on Iraq. The live forums could have been used to ignite the war issue, but the Madrid camp simply did not see anything to gain.

"This is probably a 52% to 48% race by Election Day, with Heather in the lead. The thing that it will turn on is who gets their voters out. A lot of TV debates would not change that," said one Dem operative close to the action.

One TV debate between the two ladies has been agreed upon for October 24 on KOB-TV. That face-off could also be broadcast nationally by C-SPAN since Madrid has turned down Comcast Cable's offer for a mid-October debate Comcast hoped to air on the cable public affairs network.

Also on TV, that big buy for Patsy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to go up this week. The RCCC will come for Heather.


And what is this? An official campaign Web site for Heather? It's a late start--perhaps because she wanted to be viewed as the incumbent and not a candidate for as long as possible--but it is now up and reflects the campaign on the airwaves with lots of zingers at Madrid whose Web site has been live for many months.


This is a tricky campaign for Rep. Wilson. I am not from the school of thought that says she is a deeply experienced campaigner. Why? Because she has never been in a real nail-biter. All her victories have been sizeable, although some have had brief scares. This campaign is one long scare. Having worked on and reported on many tight contests, I know how frustrating it can be when you have worked it hard, but the numbers stall and the race stays in play.

I don't believe Wilson has ever really had that experience. She has had easy prey. In the next seven weeks, if the race stays alive, she is going to be forced to make decisions in a pressure-packed atmosphere. Madrid has been there, done that. And I think she may actually have the advantage in that aspect of the psychological warfare. None of this is meant to predict the outcome--I have a terrible batting average at that and have long ago forsaken the crystal ball and turned it over to my Alligators--it is just a sidebar to the action that I find fascinating and keeps the blog beat more exciting than ever.


They say in politics timing is everything and in that category Big Bill is on a run. No sooner does he get a Chicago journalist released from captivity in Sudan than a nice puff piece hits in the state's largest newspaper noting his past diplomatic success. The national magazine insert "American Profile" is carried by the ABQ Journal and other papers across the country.

While the piece was puffy, there was an interesting quote from Mrs. Big Bill on why her Guv husband, who has been criticized for being anything but diplomatic when he gets certain state legislators behind closed doors, has had so much success with tyrants around the world.

"He's bicultural, and that gives him an insight into dealing with people, especially in tough situations," says his wife, Barbara. "If you can't do it one way, let's look at another way to achieve a goal. He points out that you have to walk in that person's shoes and know what it is that person needs when you are in negotiations."

Maybe when the playing field tilts aginst the Guv his vaunted talking skills come to the fore, but when he holds most of the cards, as he often has with the outgunned NM lawmakers, dictation replaces the diplomacy.


Finally, on this beautiful late summer New Mexican day, take a look at this news item quoting NM secretary of state spokesman Ray Baray on what will be done with a bunch of old voting machines,.

"Baray said that hundreds of old (voting) machines which New Mexico still owns will be stored at an old mental hospital in Los Lunas."

Maybe the voting machines have gone mad after seeing some of the names on the ballot around here for the last twenty years or so. If so, I know Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico empathize. Maybe Ray and company can grant the voting machines visiting privileges so we can comfort them in their final days. On second thought, let the machines rest in peace. They don't need any reminders of what they have been through.

News, comments, corrections? Send em' all via the email link at the top of the page, and thanks for stopping by today.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some R's Want More Red Meat From U.S. Attorney, Plus: 1st CD Race Set To Get More Nasty, And: My Bottom Lines 

ABQ U.S. Courthouse
It takes a lot to make some politicos happy. Take, for example, those disgruntled R's who can be heard bemoaning the fact that NM U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a Republican, has not come with federal indictments in the investigation of the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses. The R's already have the retrial of Dem ex-state Treasurer Robert Vigil underway and working for them politically, but some are grumbling that they want even more ammo for GOP U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson to take into battle against Dem Patricia Madrid and they think the alleged courthouse capers will further damage the D's.

Here's a direct report from downtown ABQ and the federal courthouse where the Vigil trial is underway and one of our Senior Alligators is positioned.

"There are a lot of GOP types who feel Iglesias should have put more resources into the public corruption cases so that there would have been more indictments this summer. Indictments in July would have helped. Indictments after the election don't.

"Everything has been piled on the shoulders of (assistant U.S.) Attorney Jonathan Gerson...he hasn't been given much help. A lot of the top people in the office don't view the public corruption cases as very important. They want to keep the numbers high on drug and immigration cases. There are any number of good prosecutors who should have been assigned to help Gerson on the other pending cases."

Gerson is handling the Vigil prosecution, as well as the courthouse case. Iglesias's defenders say he has done plenty on the public corruption front, citing the Vigil indictment and that of ex-Treasurer Montoya. They also point out that while he is a political appointee, he is not a politician, but a prosecutor.

As for the federal courthouses probe, insiders previously told us don't expect any action until after the election. So far, they've been right. But if they are wrong, action on the controversy could be the "October Surprise" of 06.

Rep. Wilson
Can the Wilson-Madrid ABQ race for Congress get any nastier? The short answer is yes. Take this from the Washington Post:

"The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads."

Some of that $50 mil will find its way to ABQ, but what about combing though candidates' record on key issues like Iraq and healthcare? Well, when the issues don't break your way, you stay away from them. It will be up to the D's to focus the R's on that smelly pile of laundry in the corner, including congressional wrongdoing, and prevent any ethics stench from sticking to them.


We've been wondering when GOP Land Commissioner Pat Lyons would start coming with some media and begin spending that half-million dollar plus war chest he has stashed. Lyons finally opened the spigot and put on radio ads that began airing this week. There's more where that came from and TV spots won't be far behind. Lyons trails D opponent Jim Baca in the latest polling...

For those who have to have it all, I am posting the seven page lawsuit {PDF} filed by the NM Democratic Party seeking to keep Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo off the ballot. There is a lot of insider stuff on the actions of Armijo and Dem Chair Wertheim in the moments leading up to Jeff's initial withdrawal. It is told from Wertheim's viewpoint...Jeff's suit to stay on the ballot is the subject of a 4 p.m. ABQ court hearing today...

And how about those radio spots for southern NM GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce asking for Dem votes? One of the spots signs off with a Dem saying: "Another proud Democrat for Pearce." The congressman, seeking his third two year term, is expected to take the prize but the D's say his spot says he is concerned that a possible big Dem year could cut into his winning margin over Al Kissling, possibly weakening him for any statewide ambitions he may later have. Pearce beat Gary King two years ago, garnering 60% of the vote.

This is the home of Campaign 06', featuring exclusive coverage and New Mexico's most experienced political analysts. Your emails with news and comments are welcome. Send them from the link at the top of the page.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Big Bill's First Campaign Week; Nearly a Clean Sweep; (Except For Jeff), Plus: Bloggin' With Valerie Plame On A New Mexico Monday 

Guv & Salopek
You can argue, and his critics do, that Big Bill is a better campaigner than Governor, but right now this is a campaign and the first official week of it demonstrated why in New Mexico Richardson is in a class by himself. Like him or not, there is no denying this is a politician who takes advantage of every opportunity.

First he receives a call from the wife of a Chicago Tribune journalist being detained in the strife-torn African nation of Sudan. He hops on the jet, springs Paul Salopek and deposits him safely back in Columbus, NM where the scribe makes his home when not finding peril in international hot spots.

Salopek was lucky. A Sudanese journalist recently had his head cut off.

If the critics cried that this had nothing to do with New Mexico, or joked that "it takes a dictator to understand a dictator, the Governor had something for them too. He announced that flood aid the Feds previously denied for our stricken neighbors in the Alamogordo area has been freed up and will be granted after all. (Senator Pete shared the credit.)

And what was GOP Guv hopeful John Dendahl doing during the first week of Campaign 06? He was issuing a humble apology to NM school teachers for an earlier faux paux that had him equating their teaching methods with "socialism." Insiders say his staff is busy just trying to take care of the "organizational details" of a statewide campaign that has the disadvantage of not beginning until mid-June. Joltin' John may yet get his big week, but this past one wasn't it.

What most impressed political strategists about Big Bill's first week sweep was its unplanned nature. No one knew he was going to be be called upon to rescue the stranded journalist and no one knew there was going to be historic flooding in SE NM. But he tackled both and he delivered. And don't think voters didn't notice.


Unlike previous international missions where Richardson has freed Americans form the grips of dictatorial regimes, this one rippled more strongly across the national stage that he hopes to occupy as an 08' presidential candidate. There he was sitting down with a Muslim leader and successfully negotiating against the backdrop of our gridlocked foreign policy that has the nation stymied in Iraq and unable to get either North Korea or Iran to come to their senses on nukes.

Not that the situations are anywhere equal, but negotiating to bring order to the chaotic world the nation faces has been way out-of-style since 9/11--the fifth anniversary of which is being commemorated today. (The brilliant writer Peggy Noonan has more on that.) Richardson produced a glimpse back into the past, and hopefully the future, when diplomats worked furiously to put fires out at the talking table before the first shots were fired.

Maybe the glass-is-half-full crowd has it wrong, but the Governor's mission raised hopes that the so-called "War on Terror" does not have to last the rest of our lifetimes or those of our children. There is an alternative and it is not appeasement. It is negotiating. The result could be peace. Remember that?

Judge Rivera
The first week of Campaign 06' would have been a clean sweep for the Guv, if not for the pesky matter of Jeff Armijo. Removing the Dem state auditor candidate from the scene is proving more difficult for the Guv than negotiating with the strong-arm set. Tuesday Jeff goes before ABQ District Court Judge Geraldine Rivera to argue that his name should be kept on the ballot. Saturday the D's Central Committee named State Rep. Hector Balderas to the slot in anticipation of Jeff losing his court battle. But Armijo, who is being called on by Big Bill to get out because he is charged with sexual misconduct by two young women, has hung tough, raising D concerns that he could stay on the ballot and taint Big Bill and the Dem ticket, not to mention paving the way for R Lorenzo Garcia to win the auditor's job.

Legal insiders said Armijo got the luck of the draw Friday when he filed his lawsuit, arguing that his withdrawal from the race was not a legal notification. They point out that Judge Rivera, who was assigned the case, is a Republican with a reputation for being independent. But even if Jeff wins there, the case appears headed to the all-Dem NM Supreme Court where the justices will wrestle with the question of whether a news release Jeff issued legally got him out of the race. It's a first of it's kind case and everyone is anxiously awaiting the rulings from judge Rivera and the Supremes, whether they are for or against the intrepid Armijo.


My choice this weekend was to go see the guy who could be the GOP 08' Prez candidate, or meet the most famous outed CIA "spy" in recent history. I had already met Arizona Sen. John McCain back in 84' when he was in the U.S. House, so I opted to chat up Valerie Plame at a political house party hosted by the irrepressible Mikey Weinstein, an ABQ attorney who is battling the Air Force over the role of religion at the Air Force Academy.

Valerie is at the center of one of the most famous inside-the-beltway" stories" ever. Her CIA cover was illegaly blown after her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, broke with the Bush administration over the pre-war intelligence over the Iraq war. That set off a frenzy on the banks of the Potomac. Here in Albuquerque, things were much more placid for the couple who are on the board of the group Weinstein has formed to carry his cause.

Wilson referred to himself as "Mr. Valerie Plame," taking note of her fame, which has been abetted by her photogenic looks. Agreeing with the ambassador, we cropped him out of the photo. I am sure the McCain event went well, but I don't think it would have furthered my James Bond fantasy as much as Valerie did.


A reminder to all the campaigns of the importance of reaching the key voting group this year--folks over the age of 45. The place to do that for statewide and Bernalillo county candidates is KKJY 1550 AM and 1600 AM "Real Oldies" radio, which is offering special ad rates this election season to reach thousands of voters in this vital voting group. The stations are locally owned by veteran radio maven Don Davis and will take good care of you. Find out more by clicking thru the ad, and then make sure to set aside some of your ad budget for K-Joy and Real Oldies radio.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Weekend Update: Dems Nominate Balderas For Auditor Spot, But Courts Will Have Final Say 

The latest chapter in the Jeff Armijo saga unfolded late Saturday afternoon as the NM Democratic Party Central Committee nominated State Rep. Hector Balderas to become the party's candidate for state auditor, replacing the 36 year old Armjio who is mired in a scandal involving allegations of sexual misconduct with two young women. However, one chapter remains unwritten: how the courts will rule on the controversial matter. Armijo has filed a suit to stay on the ballot and it is expected to be heard in ABQ district court Tuesday, with the ultimate ruling likely coming from the NM Supreme Court.

Balderas, a rep from the north, took 153 votes to ABQ attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto's, 81. Also, Jeff Armijo, who was not present at the meeting, was nominated anyway and garnered just 41 ballots. Vince Baca scored 7 votes and there were two abstentions.

If the courts rule that Armijo has officially withdrawn from the race, a position he disputes, Balderas will carry the Dem auditor banner into the Nov 7. election and will vacate his House seat. More La Politica on Monday.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

The Dems And Zozobra: Both Fight The Flames; Armijo To Court To Get On Ballot; Party Leaders Plot His Demise, Plus: Can McCain Heal Heather? 

Zozobra burns
They burned Old Man Gloom in the City Different last night, but even the mystical powers of the fabled Zozobra were not enough to disperse the woes and cares of the New Mexico Democratic Party. There's no truth to the rumor that Dem Party Chair Wertheim tried to heave Armijo into the leaping flames--he had too much other business to deal with. And Jeff was also to preoccupied to take in the annual spectacle.

Chairman John is preparing for a meeting of the Dem Party Central Committee Saturday at which the party plans to name a replacement for state auditor hopeful Armijo, while Armjio is working on a lawsuit that he will file today that seeks to keep him on the ballot and also forbid that committee meeting.

Zozobra is darn good show, but it can hardly top Jeff's skit--first withdrawing his candidacy in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct and then reversing that withdrawal. While we have to wait another year to see New Mexico's favorite puppet burst into flames, the political fires engulfing the Democrats will continue unabated--at least for a while.

The show resumes today in district court where Armijo will ask that the secretary of state's decision disallowing his re-entry be overturned and that the ABQ Central Committee session be canceled because there is no need for the party to name a replacement for Armijo because he contends no vacancy exists.


According to sources close to the Armijo camp, Jeff has decided not to appear at the meeting and compete against State Rep. Hector Balderas and several other candidates vying to replace him. Balderas is favored to take the title, but the win could be an empty one if the courts see it Jeff's way and rule that his news release canceling his candidacy does not constitute a legal withdrawal and instead says direct notification to the secretary of state is necessary.

Would a judge actually cancel the committee confab which would mean the Dems could conceivably have no auditor candidate if Armijo was later ruled off the ballot? Unlikely, but this is now Fourth World politics, lacking even the stability of the Sudan, the scene of Big Bill's latest diplomatic adventure.

There is some 360 members of the committee, but a lot of them, say the Alligators, are not very enthusiastic about coming to the Big City to deal with the Jeff Mess, leaving Balderas and company scrambling to insure that there is a quorum for the Saturday soiree.

"A lot of them just don't want to deal with it," said a veteran committee member.

The legal beagles are barking that Jeff's court case would probably be acted on right away at the district level and then rushed to the NM Supreme Court for a ruling. Whether the legal wrangling will be settled before or after the Saturday session is anyone's guess.

Balderas & Sen. Bingaman
How about hopeful Hector? Ok. We'll go there, but bear with me as we go deep into the pit of La Politica to explain the Movida.

Hector has now officially withdrawn his candidacy for his northern state house seat, (by direct phone call to the secretary of state, not fax!), meaning a replacement Dem candidate for the Nov. 7 election could be named at Saturday's meeting by the Central Committee members from Hector's House district. But maybe they won't do anything.

You see, there is no Republican running against the freshman lawmaker. If the Dems choose not to name a replacement candidate, voters there would have no one to vote for. That means there would be a vacancy in the multi-county district following the November election. The county commissions from the Balderas district would then send up a name or names for the Governor to fill the vacancy. If Hector was left out in the cold by a court decision that kept Jeff as the Dem auditor nominee, the commissions could send Hector's name to the Governor who could then appoint Balderas, allowing him to keep the seat for a second term.

But what, you ask, if Jeff loses in court, Hector gets the auditor nomination Saturday and wins the position in November? Again, the county commissions of the district send a name or names up to the Guv.

All this will be academic if, by Saturday, the courts have resolved Armijo's candidacy. If they keep Jeff off the ballot, Garcia or someone else will probably be named as a ballot replacement for Hector's seat. If the legal case is still in limbo, look for no action.

Got all that? Yeah, it has me reeling too. Right now it's Jeff's world; we just live in it. Fortunately, nothing lasts forever.

Sen. McCain
Arizona GOP Senator John McCain, as you first learned here will be in ABQ Saturday to campaign for U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson. The pair will conduct a veterans' event at a VFW hall and also a reception that will cost as much as $2,000 per person.

The VFW stop seems a smart move. McCain, once the darling of the independent voter, has lost his cachet with them with his over-the-top support of the no-end-in-sight Iraq war. The 08' presidential hopeful seems to think that position will be a big winner for him with R conservatives, even as the country grows ever more nauseous over the adventure.

McCain's heroic stance as a Vietnam veteran and Heather's status as an Air Force veteran give them strong standing in the military community and the visit could help solidify her GOP base. But if she is hoping McCain's visit will help her get the Bush monkey off of her back, she could be disappointed. That thing is looking more like a gorilla with each passing day.


It's been a week full of a comedy of political errors, and I joined the party too. Did I say ABQ attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto considered running for the Dem nomination for attorney general this year? Indeed I did. But it was another lawyer with a triple header name, Eric Sedillo-Jeffries, who did the AG thing, not Ivey-Soto who has talked about seeking the Dem auditor slot at Saturday's Central Committee meeting. Sorry, Daniel, but you Dems shook me up this week.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Armijo Lawyering Up; Sources Say Court Challenge To Stay On Ballot Coming; Plus: Should R's Re-Focus? And: The Blogs And The Papers 

Supemes To Get Case?
Jeff Armijo wants his day in court, and that day could come as soon as today, according to sources close to the Jeff camp. The Dem state auditor hopeful has been the object of snickers and derision for his waffling ways, first getting out of the race and then saying he's back in. But legal and political experts aren't laughing at his apparent court challenge. The consensus I'm picking up is that he has a decent shot at overturning Tuesday's decision by the secretary of state to deny him a place on the November 7 ballot.

"There is a long history of candidates withdrawing by letters directly to the secretary. I would expect that history to be presented in any court challenge, and it may be one of Armijo's strongest arguments," analyzed ABQ attorney Pat Rogers, a former counsel to the NM GOP who himself has a long history of battling election access questions.

As a Republican, it could be argued Rogers would love nothing better than to see Armijo, facing allegations of sexual misconduct in two separate incidents, stay in the game and embarrass the Dems, but the analysis across the aisle was similar. Two attorneys for Dem ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez are also asserting, according to Ken, that they too think that Armijo's news release abandoning his candidacy on August 29 is not a legal withdrawal. Sanchez phoned in to report that based on his legal advice, he will not seek the auditor nomination at that special meeting of the Dem State Central Committee Saturday. That leaves Wagon Mound freshman State Rep. Hector Balderas, 33, as the leading possibility to replace Jeff.

Armijo can't rule out going for the Dem Central's nod. If he can get a decision on his case by Saturday, and if he were to lose, he would then have the option of competing with Hector. His chances would be poor, but many old timers populate the 360 member body and Armijo might generate more support than one would expect.


"District court is the first stop. After that, the case would go to the State Supreme Court as either side could appeal any ruling," explained lawyer Rogers of an ARmijo challenge. The five members of the high court are all Dems, so any ruling would be subjected to intense political as well as legal scrutiny.

The haphazard way the secretary of state was "formally" informed of Armijo's withdrawal--a fax of his news release from the Governor's office, is a first. Secretary Rebecca Vigil-Giron maintains that the release is "sufficient evidence" for her to declare a vacancy and allow the Dem Central Committee to name a replacement.

But Vigil-Giron's office, whose views are being supported by the attorney general, has no other example of this kind of withdrawal being executed. It appears all of them have been done by letter or a direct phone call to the secretary.

Jeff reversed his Aug. 29 withdrawal at a late afternoon news conference Tuesday, setting off alarms at the upper echelons of the NM Dem Party, but many neutral observers are now concerned about the long-term consequences of the confusing withdrawal rules and welcome a court determination. The secretary of state's office is a political position, and absent any explicit legal instructions, his or her power remains unchecked. That is especially troubling when a candidate has already been confirmed the nominee by voters, as Armijo was when he won the June primary election.


Armijo may be a deeply flawed candidate; he may cause damage to the Democratic ticket; his candidacy may lead to a Republican takeover of the auditor's office, but we have a Supreme Court to not only render judgments that bring order to present chaos, but to issue rulings that prevent future chaos. Whether Armijo is eventually allowed on the ballot or not, the Legislature, after the courts make sense of this, will have a chance to rectify the outcome. They have clearly left a gaping hole in the law.

All this brings us back to the responsibility of he parties to better vet their candidates. Armijo's candidacy was the subject of endless concern long before the sexual allegations developed. The party and its leadership could have done something about it, but chose not to. And it's not as if they did not have an example to go by. ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil was a candidate four years ago who also gave fits to the Dems, but those concerns were set aside and look what you have today.

The best outcome for the D's would be the failure of any court challenge by Armijo, but the best outcome for Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico is a well-reasoned court decision that explains just what the rules are today and provides clear direction to lawmakers on what they need to do to get this derailed section of our election code back on track.


It's not just the Dems having trouble with the auditor spot. Some R' s are grumbling that the state party seems more concerned with investing in a long shot takeover of the secretary of state's office which the Dems have held uninterrupted since 1929. Party support has poured into the campaign or R contender Vickie Perea, leaving her with as much as $150,000. But R auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia and R Demesia Padilla are not getting the same kind of love. Garcia has just ten grand in his bank account. Padilla has hit the $100,000 mark, but largely through her own efforts. Disgruntled R's think it's time to switch focus and challenge the Dems hold on the offices that current events give them a better chance of contesting.

If you look at this from the neutral corner, you might agree. Corruption is caused, in part, by a lack of competition. The R's are railing about the shenanigans in Santa Fe, but will their campaign strategy for the important statewide financial offices match their rhetoric and hyperbolic Web sites? It's a fair question at a pivotal moment in state history.


ABQ Trib political reporter Kate Nash recently tackled the issue of blogs and whether they compete with the "mainstream" media. I think she came up with the right answer. Here are some excerpts.

SANTA FE - I might as well just go ahead and set my alarm clock to blast me awake the moment Joe Monahan posts his dispatches online. Because invariably, in the next few hours, I know I'm going to hear, "Did you see Monahan's blog today?"

Indeed, it seems that's a question that frequently gets the mornings started here in the Capitol press room among us political reporters...The blogs are here to stay. And they're changing the way we cover politics--in general, I'd say, for the better.

Although not everything on a blog is attributed to a person with a name, the information is usually a thread that's got something to it. And that's a place for reporters to start.

Monahan said his blog is "the front page, the entertainment page, the sports page and the editorial page all rolled into one."

In part because bloggers don't have to back up or confirm information the way traditional reporters do, there's a better chance we'll see good stuff on blogs from people who prefer not to be named.

Monahan, a former radio and newspaper reporter, has 35 years of New Mexico residency under his cap...and is a registered independent.

While some professorial types might worry bloggers will replace newspapers, I'm not worried. They aren't the competition. But they keep us on our toes, tipping us off to other stories we ought to be looking at--especially during election season.

Some good points there. And it's hard to see how most of the blogs could exist without the newspapers and their full-time staffs providing endless political fodder.

I will update events on the Armijo case and other breaking political news from now through the weekend, so don't touch that dial.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dysfunctional Democrats: Chaos Erupts As Armijo Re-enters Auditor Race; Party Moves To Cut Him Off, But Courts Could Decide; It's A Blogger's Paradise 

If there is a definition of a "Bloggers Paradise" Tuesday September 5, 2006 had to be that day. But for the New Mexico Democratic Party it will likely be remembered as "The Day from Hell."

Never mind the opening day of the re-trial of ex-Dem Treasurer Robert Vigil on corruption charges whose new twists and turns rivaled the spectacle of Katie Couric debuting as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Even "The Re-trial of the Decade" couldn't compete with what unfolded under finally rain-free skies accompanied by lukewarm temperatures at an ABQ NE Heights park.

Jeff Armijo made his stand, rebuking his August 29th withdrawal as the Democratic nominee for state auditor and defiantly declared he is back in the race, and if that makes a "select few politicians nervous, so be it."

Well, it wasn't a select few that broke out in hives upon hearing the news flashes in the minutes following Jeff's 4:45 p.m. announcement. It was the entire Democratic leadership structure and its statewide candidates. The statement was a brief three minutes, but Jeff smoothly managed to get off his money line: "I am a victim of a horrible political scheme." He exclaimed.

Hey, Jeff. You're not alone, the entire state has felt that way for decades.

While Jeff pointed out the nervousness of his fellow Dems, he too appeared jumpy, bouncing back and forth and repeatedly deflecting inquiries with "no comment." But there was plenty of comment from the powers that be, including the NM secretary of state and the attorney general's office, both occupied by Democrats.


Moving to avert a candidacy marred by two separate allegations of sexual misconduct and which Armijo was supposedly persuaded to abandon after meeting with Big Bill, the secretary and AG, along with NM Dem Chairman John Wertheim, called out in unison: "We heard you the first time, Jeff. They claimed Armijo, who made his announcement just fifteen minutes before the deadline for a candidate to withdraw, could not backtrack, that the press release he issued following his Big Bill sit-down was a legal abandonment of his auditor bid and there was no turning back the clock.

"No matter what Jeff Armijo says or does, he already officially withdrew his name for State Auditor a week ago. His actions on that day created a vacancy on the General Election ballot."

So declared Chair Wertheim, or maybe we should say so "wished" chairman Wertheim, as the issue may be headed to court if Jeff's Tuesday stand-up in the park turns out not to be his last stand.

With that in mind, the chairman baited a trap he hopes Armijo will bite on:

"Although I am personally disappointed that Jeff has gone back on his word, officially, he is welcome to go before our State Central Committee on September 9th just like the other candidates vying to fill this vacancy, and attempt to get his name back on the ballot."

Of course, if Jeff enters the auditor race at the Central Committee it would be an admission that there is indeed a vacancy in the auditor position, detracting from a court claim that he never really withdrew.

No one was calling Wertheim clever for this maneuver, but neither was anyone overestimating the emotional tranquility of Armijo whose political behavior is as predictable as a Florida vote count.


Meanwhile, up where all family arguments end, and often begin, Big Bill, according to my insiders, was preparing to depart the Land of Disenchantment for yet another diplomatic venture, This time for far away Sudan where a native New Mexican working for a Chicago newspaper was being held hostage. He probably wishes he could take Jeff with him and parachute him into Darfur. Instead, Bill had his spinners issue this Armijo divorce decree:

"The Governor is very disappointed that Mr. Armijo is attempting to go back on his word and selfishly put himself before the Democratic Party.

"The Governor agrees with the legal position of the Democratic Party Chairman, who is moving forward and asking the State Central Committee to select a replacement candidate who is responsible and committed to running a campaign based on the highest ethical standards."

Come back from Sudan soon, Guv. The party is just getting started.


That "party" will be the aforementioned Saturday Central Committee confab at which 360 top Dems from all of our fretting Four Corners will gather to name Armijo's replacement. State Rep. Hector Balderas of Wagon Mound, who has been in the race since Jeff said he was getting out, was holed up in a friend's law office frantically making calls to committee members, hoping to create an air of inevitability. Depending on who was counting, he had lined up at least 65 and maybe 90 votes.

While Hector was hectoring his fellow Dems, intrigue surrounded ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez who was also doing the ring-a-ding thing over the weekend, but gave his fingers a rest Tuesday to talk with none other than Jeff Armijo's dad and also with cousin Marty. That would be ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, cousin to Jeff. What were they brewing up? According to His Honor, relaying word through a Dem operative, he "fully backed the Governor" and had urged Jeff to stay out of the race.

I won't go into the Twilight Zone theories floating around about that little chatfest for fear of again being dubbed "genetically conspiratorial" by my old friend Bruce Daniels at the ABQ Journal who, by the way, is right on the mark. Suffice it to say that by late evening whatever personal political gain was to be had by jiggling around with Jeff's fortunes was dissipating and a unified front seemed to be developing that Balderas had to be the man, or else there might not be any plan. Sanchez phoned in today to say he is abandoning his candidacy, citing legal advice from his two personal attorneys who he said told him: "There is no vacancy." Sanchez added he is not supporting anyone for the Dem nod.

But all was not unity in the Armijo camp, with one of his in-the-know sympathizers reporting that Jeff's lawyer was "livid." The second allegation of sexual misconduct is under review by Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg and if official charges do result, broadcasting them on a three network pre-game show was not the way to obtain the best legal outcome.

The perky DA, also a Democrat, and an expert at under-the-radar operations, was having her cover busted by some Armijo advocates who questioned why she could not quickly resolve what they say is a simple "he said, she said" case. "Indict or a dismiss!" They cried.

Well, they say a DA can indict a ham sandwich, but this one is filled with political indigestion.


After using up most of my cell phone minutes, I decided to get reckless and go over the limit and fired a heat-seeking missile at Dem Land Commissioner candidate Jim Baca. After all, if an Armijo candidacy somehow arises, it would be Jim B., involved in the tightest statewide contest with R Pat Lyons, who might be in the most ticklish situation.

"To disavow or not to disavow." That was my question. Not worthy of Shakespeare, but fitting enough for my purposes.

"I believe Jeff has withdrawn from the race and it is up to the Central Committee to name a replacement," Baca said, practically parsing every syllable.

Would you support Armijo if he did make it on the ballot? "I'm not ready to go there yet." He replied. I bet. He's probably more prepared to go to the Sudan with Big Bill.

Baca was downright chirpy compared to a top Dem operative who answered my call in a forlorn voice and softly uttered: "I am not prepared to talk with you, Joe. I'm too depressed. But the political instinct is irrepressible and after promising free Prozac I had him handicapping the probable outcome of Jeff's Mess.

"Balderas is the likely nominee. If Jeff chose to run, he would get support from Socorro (where he has many family members) and pockets of Valencia county. Balderas must get proxy votes from around the state because a lot of people will not travel to ABQ for the committee meeting."

But, as we said a thousand words or so ago, that may be academic since Armijo would likely be losing his legal argument if he agreed his withdrawal was really a withdrawal and decided to dance at Central.

Another operative, more perplexed than depressed, was more confident. "Keep in mind that the vote at the committee is an open vote, not a secret ballot. There may be some brave talk from Jeff's supporters now, but how many of them are going to go public and vote for him? He's done," declared the D.


It ain't over until the fat lady sings or, in this case, until Jeff throws in the towel and declares he will not bring a lawsuit to stop a new nominee from going on the ballot; a suit that would likely go directly to the Supremes. No, not Diana Ross and the gals, but the NM State Supreme Court. There, things could get tricky.

Doesn't a candidate have to file a document directly with the secretary of state to make an "official" withdrawal? When did a press release faxed over to Secretary Rebecca Vigil-Giron by the Guv's office (as happened in this case) become a binding legal notification? And, can't a guy change his mind?

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the Armijo candidacy, the Democrats are going to do their best to conduct a separation operation. It may be like one of those Siamese Twins deals; the separating goes alright, but some of the parts won't be working as well as they used to. The lengthy procedure is already underway with the Big Bill and Wertheim statements. Up next could be a resolution by the Central Committee urging Jeff to accept the new nominee; that they will not support his candidacy if one develops, and that he should really just go home and book himself a long cruise courtesy of the travel agency he owns.


Yep, you finally reached the bottom of this thing. If you are feeling weak, feel free to take some vitamins. But what about the 21 year old woman who is making sexual misconduct allegations, the August 3 charge that Armijo says is part of a "horrible political scheme?" My sources tell me she was a student at TV-I (Central New Mexico College) and did campaign volunteer campaign work at Armijo's home where she charges she was pinned to the floor and touched improperly by the political hopeful. Armijo is an elected member of the governing board of the college. His people say the intern once worked with another politico who has an axe to grind with Jeff, thus "the horrible political scheme."

And what about Republican auditor nominee Lorenzo Garcia. He doesn't really have to say anything, just wait like a vulture in a pinon tree, hoping against hope that Jeff likes hanging out with lawyers.

No, I don't really know if vultures hang out in pinon trees. But after this particular Tuesday in La Politica, I have suspended all disbelief. How else to prepare for whatever comes next?

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Campaign 06' Kicks Off; R's Fret Over Possible Dem State Sweep, Plus: Armijo's Withdrawal; Dems Get Nervous; Could He Stay In? 

Despite an epic ethics scandal that will again move into the limelight today, and rapidly increasing spending that has raised concern over our state's future economic health, Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico appear to be in no mood to shake up the political landscape. In fact, Alligators on both sides of the aisle are saying if the election were held today the most likely outcome would be a Democratic sweep of all statewide offices.

The latest evidence that the ethics card may turn out to be a joker comes in the ABQ Journal poll on the Governor's race in which Big Bill is getting 57% support, compared to R John Dendahl's 28%. This follows blow out re-elect numbers for Dem Senator Bingaman and a 14 point lead (40-26) for Dem James Lewis over Demesia Padilla in the Treasurer race, the one contest you would think the R's would be best positioned for after the historic scandal. The only good news for the R's is that there is time, but not much. Early voting starts Oct. 10.

Against this backdrop we called one of our veteran R blog analysts, Greg Payne, to frame Campaign 06' from his perspective. The former state legislator, ABQ city councilor, consultant to Gary Johnson's 98' Guv campaign, as well as a bevy of local contests, had a crystal clear crystal ball in 04' when he called all the major races on this blog and nailed the Electoral College Prez vote. But what has he done for us lately? Let's put him to work.

"The Governor's race is an uphill battle for Dendahl, but we all knew that. The concern now is the impact on the down-ballot races, especially for land commissioner." Said Payne who is now transit director for the city of ABQ.

That race features GOP incumbent Pat Lyons who pulled off the upset in 02', giving the R's the spot for only the second time in decades. This time he faces Dem and ex-commissioner Jim Baca who is underfunded compared to Lyons' $500,000. Monday night the ABQ Journal hit with its first poll on the race, showing Baca leading, but by just five points. It was Baca 41% and Lyons 36%. The Journal did not print the undecided, but we assume it is the remainder, or 23%. But, Payne explains, the extreme weakness at the top of the ticket, with the R Guv and senate candidates polling in the upper 20's this close to Election Day, is a red flag for Lyons and all down-ballot R's.

"John needs to consolidate the Republican vote, and fast. The most telling number in the Sanderoff poll is the 83% support (GOP U.S. Rep.) Heather Wilson is getting. That compares to Dendahl's 53%. The hangover from the drug legalization controversy and other internal party battles when he was chairman is clearly there. I think he should focus on government overspending and border security--issues Republicans can rally around. An all-attack campaign on Richardson, which may be coming, will probably not be enough.

"I do expect Richardson to attack Dendahl. He wants the 60% to launch his presidential ambitions. As things stand now, I expect him to get there." Analyzed Payne.


Payne said the R's have solid statewide candidates, pointing to political newcomer and attorney general candidate Jim Bibb as one of them, but he said Bibb's profile has been too low. Bibb did start TV ads recently, but otherwise has been quiet. He has been touted as a GOP Golden Boy, but Dem Gary King is now heavily favored, with the ABQ Journal poll released Monday night giving King a 20 point lead, 47% to Bibb's 27% and 26% undecided. Also, if Bibb starts to move, the King camp can be expected to remind conservative voters that Bibb is the son-in-law of former Democratic Guv Toney Anaya who has been supportive of drug legalization and who has taken an active role in the campaign.

Traditionally, the R's come alive late in the game, Payne explained. But with the candidates starting so far back there may simply be too much ground to make up.

While R's losing all the statewide contests would be painful, if not unusual, Payne is most concerned about Rep. Wilson. "She is running a letter-perfect campaign, but I have never seen the national environment so challenging. I expect the Democrats to take the U.S. House. I don't have a call on Heather, except to say she needs to continue what she is doing and more of it."

Thanks, Greg, one of my many veteran analysts who are helping us bring home Campaign 06'.


Nervous Democrats are awaiting the formal withdrawal today of Jeff Armijo from the state auditor's race, the last day under state law that he can get out. Nerves are frayed because chatter began circulating Labor Day evening that Armijo is thinking of reversing his decision of last week to resign the ticket after it was revealed he faces charges of making unwanted sexual advances towards a 21 year old woman and had earlier faced a similar charge that was dismissed.

Two high-ranking Dem sources told me that Armijo is considering staying in, but they could not say with any confidence whether he was serious or just venting frustration.

"He has said it. Will he do it? I don't know," said one of my sources.

Armijo withdrew after a meeting with Big Bill and is now reportedly saying he felt pressured by the Governor. Obviously, if Armiijo, who has been making some volatile statements in recent days, did stay in, it would be a major development, with the other Dem candidates facing pressure to disavow his candidacy. The deadline for Armijo to file a withdrawal statement with the secretary of State is 5 p.m. today. We'll keep you posted.


Meanwhile, insiders are also saying that the Guv is treading carefully in that battle for the Dem state auditor nomination that is scheduled to be decided this Saturday by the Democratic Party State Central Committee, if Arimjo does indeed withdraw. State Rep. Hector Balderas of the north, ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez and ABQ attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto are all in the fray.

The Alligators report Balderas and Sanchez have been on the phones to the committee members. Balderas and Ivey-Soto each had a recent meeting with Big Bill, but the Guv may have more to lose than gain if his fingerprints are too noticeable on the intra-party contest.

The winner of the Dem nod will face R contender Lorenzo Garcia who will do his best to capitalize on the Treasurer scandal. The winner of the Dem slot (unless it is Armijo) can be assured the party and the Guv will rush to help so they don't lose control of the position the R's could use as a launching pad for financial probes of the Guv's administration.


Political eyes coast-to-coast are on the Wilson-Madrid ABQ congressional race. The nation's largest newspaper, USA Today, (circulation 2.3 million) is one of the latest to take a look. I interviewed for the piece with reporter Andrea Stone which has some good color. And, if you were away and missed our gathering of experts on the Madrid-Wilson poll results, scroll down. It's a must-read for everyone interested in that face-off.

Bill Maher
Liberal comedian Bill Maher set down in ABQ for a Labor Day weekend show at the Kiva Auditorium that attracted the anti-Bush brigade. Maher didn't disappoint, drawing big laughs from his Duke City audience with lines like this: "George Bush is all about business. In fact, he would sell the Red Cross to Dracula if he thought it was good business. And one more that had the crowd roaring: "We now have female suicide bombers. When they get to heaven they get 72 pairs of shoes!"

And so it goes as the official campaign season gets underway. Stay with us. It's going to be a whole lot of fun. And send me your news and comments from the email link at the top of the page.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Get Your Bets Down; We're Going To Round Two; Heather By Three In 1st Poll; Patsy Positioned, But Must Rearm, Plus: Jeff, Steve & Tom On Easy Street 

A bare knuckled brawl featuring hyper-negative ads, millions more in campaign funds and even more national interest is about to unfold in the must-watch race for the ABQ congressional seat. The first independent poll {PDF} measuring support for GOP U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Democrat Patricia Madrid released Sunday shows Heather with a narrow three point lead. After six weeks of no-holds barred media campaigning by the two hopefuls, neither has put the race away. And that ends speculation that a "death blow" might be rendered early in a contest which could play a decisive role in which party controls the U.S. House and the course of future American policy on such vital issues as the war in Iraq.

"It was not unexpected," commented veteran ABQ Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. "Everyone knew we were in a tight one and this confirms it."

The margin of error in the poll of 410 likely voters is 4.8%. Brian, as animated about a political race as I have heard him in decades, said he was also in the field longer than usual, from Aug. 25 thru Aug. 31.

Wilson is polling 45%, Madrid, 42%. Ten percent are undecided and 3% told the pollster they will vote for "neither." For Wilson, it's deja vu all over again. Since taking the seat in 98', she has rarely polled above the magic 50% re-elect number, but by Election Day she has closed the deal with little trouble, trouncing her last Dem challenger by nearly 10 points.

Why shouldn't that happen again? Sanderoff, who has been in the political game for 30 years, responded. "It is different this time, Joe. The unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war affords Madrid and the Democrats their best chance for victory. When you have a President whose approval rating is under 45%, (Sanderoff has Bush's NM approval rating down to 38%.) that is a formula for change. If Madrid is successful tying Wilson to Bush and Iraq she has a good chance to win." Declared Sanderoff.

But, Brian, I asked, if this is the year for change, why are we not seeing a marked difference in the way Madrid is polling from loser Richard Romero two years ago when, like Madrid, he was within shouting distance.

"The reason," Sanderoff analyzed, is the TV attack campaign Wilson has waged since mid-July. That campaign has kept Madrid from building any momentum. But, as we expected, the negative ads have not added to Heather's numbers and she remains under 50%. That means the race remains in play," he explained.

Sanderoff's analysis is borne out by the low job approval numbers for our dueling duo, with Patsy coming in with just a 45% approval rating and Heather at only 46%. Both candidates have a lot of work to do.


Sanderoff points out that Attorney General Madrid, twice elected statewide, is polling 54% of the Hispanic vote, too low for the win. Heather captures 35% of the Hispanic vote, again flexing her muscle with this traditionally Democratic group which has been an underpinning of her electoral success. But Wilson is only winning 17% of the Democrats' votes. She will need to up that total to around 25% to again enter the winner's circle. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 1st District by nearly 40,000, but in the past she has held her Republican base, won the independents and took at least 25% of the Dems to put her over the finish line.

As expected, Heather is carrying 52% of the Anglo vote, many of them R's. In the gender battle, Patsy gets the gals, winning 45% to Heather's 41%, while Heather smothers Patsy with the boys, 49% to 39%. That ten point spread leads me to believe that Madrid needs work with Hispanic male voters.

Another critical number and good news for Wilson is her continued power with voters over 65 years, the most reliable voting demographic and one that will represent a higher percentage of voters than usual in 06' because this is a mid-term election that draws fewer voters to the polls than a presidential year. Wilson has sealed the deal with a majority of them, getting 51% to Patsy's 39%. Madrid will now be pressured to stop the bleeding with the vital prune juice set.


Patsy is winning 66% of the Dems, much less than Heather's 83% among her party's members. The obvious and not unrealistic hope for the AG's campaign is that she is positioned to pick up many more D's than Heather by November 7.

Sanderoff, addressing speculation that some R's could start peeling away from Heather because of the unpopularity of the Prez and the party nationally, said we can put that to rest. "She is getting 83% of the Republicans and that will probably go to near 90% by Election Day," he predicted. But will GOP turnout be traditional, or will softness show up as a lower turnout than usual and hurt Heather? That's just one of the many multimillion dollar questions in this hotly-contested, high-stakes battle.

Other polling tidbits include "self-reported liberals" who give Madrid 69% support, a number sure to grow. And Heather gets 66% of "self-reported conservatives," a number that should also go up, but maybe not as easily as Madrid's liberals.

Sanderoff is not in the prediction business, but I asked if he sees this one as a "toss-up" or "lean Republican," categories that have been used to describe this race by national pundits. "If there was a category in between those two, I would put it there," He summarized.

I don't swear by any poll, but Sanderoff's unique experience in this district and his sampling techniques separate him from the national pollsters. The theoretical margin of error may be 4.8%, but I see it more like 2.5%. Taking note of the "art" part of the polling science, he remarked: I feel good about this poll. It strikes me as just right."


After I pored over the numbers with Sanderoff, I moved to the all-important strategy for the coming two months. For that I called in two hard-nosed, veteran political consultants and organizers who are familiar to my readers. Pollster and Democratic consultant Harry Pavlides, with 35 years of campaign experience and Steve Cabiedes, who has 20 years of experience under his belt with a specialty in field organization and voter turnout for both major parties.

Pavlides seized upon Heather's strength with the 65+ group, saying it is essential that Madrid keep Heather below 55% with this group Election Night. "She needs major media. Prescription drugs and Social Security are the key issues. Obviously, she needs to tie Wilson to Bush's unpopularity. I think they should have been doing more with the seniors earlier, but better late than never. Seniors have been Wilson's most reliable group. Patsy must make inroads.

"The Hispanic problem stands-out for Patsy," continued Pavlides who cut his teeth on the liberal politics of the 60's. Fifty-four percent support for a Hispanic Democrat like Patsy is not good. She can get more by appealing to Hispanics on economic issues; low wages, jobs and gasoline prices. The problem is mostly with Hispanic males. There is still a traditional bias among some older Hispanics that women don't belong in politics. She can erase that by playing the economic card. There are many patriarchal families where the primary breadwinner is the male. Like Heather, she needs to bring Hispanic males into her TV ads and her free media.


What else, Harry? "Overall, it is Iraq. This will help her across-the-board. It must be relentless and non-stop. The ethics attacks on Patsy have not knocked her out. Her 42% is very likely her lowest number. I see her growing. She is not going to fade like other Democrats. There are too many issues breaking her way and she is a superior candidate," concluded the political pundit.

What about Heather, Harry? "She must continue the assault on ethics, but she needs fresh ammunition, a new line of attack to continue the doubts. There is really no other way to go. She must do all she can to keep the race on Patsy. Bush is poison.

And, if Heather finds herself in deeper trouble, Harry advised that she may have to consider a shift on the Iraq war.

"She may have to do more to separate herself from the President. The no-confidence vote coming up in the House on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld could be a way of showing that separation, but it is high-risk as it could appear insincere and desperate." So said Pavlides in a wee hours of the morning cell phone conversation.


Cabiedes is first with an Election Night prediction. "It is going to be a long night. Unlike previous Heather opponents, Madrid is going to grow, not recede. I would not be surprised if the final poll is 48% to 48%. It's coming down to turnout. Madrid must go all-out. They need to spend thousands on the field, paid coordinators for every zip code if they have to. They have to get the casual Democrat to the polls. I know that is said every year, and it usually fails, but Kerry won Bernalillo County by 10,000 votes with a field effort. It can be done.

Give us some more, Steve. "Most of the electorate is decided. I agree with Harry on how to handle the issues, except Iraq. Heather needs to say the hell with Iraq, stay the course and do all she can to avoid it becoming a dominant issue. Any obvious softening in her position will be seen as weakness and opportunism. Like Patsy, it's dam the torpedoes for Heather when it comes to turnout.

"But she has a bigger problem. There is almost zero interest in the race for Governor. That's the race that drives turnout. If Richardson is landsliding Dendahl, she could experience a drop in GOP turnout. She has done her own get out the vote efforts. This time she needs to redouble her efforts; personally knock on doors and increase her direct mail to targeted precincts. Her personal presence is needed more than ever. And even with all that, I still see a drift toward Madrid as nearly impossible to stop, barring a major error. That's why I see this one keeping us up late on Election Night," concluded Cabiedes.

Brian, Harry and Steve; you've outdone yourselves. Don't worry dear readers, they will be back during the many crucial moments to come in this fight-to-the-finish race for Congress.


What can I say about the other NM congressional races, two U.S. House seats and one senate race? Not much. All three incumbents, Dem Tom Udall from the North, the GOP's Steve Pearce in the South and Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman are all going to win, unless hell freezes over or Monica Lewinsky shows up on one of their payrolls. Udall is getting an astounding 71% as newcomer Republican Ron Dolin (18%) loses R support for going against the Prez on the Iraq war. That, on top of an overwhelming Dem registration, spells doom. Give Dolin credit for being the thinking man's candidate, but Tom is doing his job and voters are going to reward him.

Jeff, in the senate since 83', is at 62% against opponent Allen McCulloch (23%). Bingaman has hit the glass ceiling. He's not going much beyond that number, but a landslide is a landslide. The liberal Dem is personally popular, has localized his tenure to NM, staying away from controversial, lefty issues and, like Udall, he shows up and does his job. Would you rehire an employee like that? Why not? Maybe McCulloch has an answer.

Pearce will have a blow-out too, unless Dem Al Kissling raises big money. Steve is getting 54% to Kissling's 29%. Pearce has the potential to grow several more, as he did two years ago.


And there you have the Big Blog. We'll keep this one up for today and Monday and come back Tuesday with more of the latest polls, including the Guv's race. And thanks to photog Mark Bralley for our exclusive pics of Heather and Patsy. For now, that's plenty of Labor Day picnic offerings for you political junkies to digest. Feel free to do so and if you like, drop me an email with your news and comments.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Join Me For A Special Sunday Blog On The First Major Poll In The Madrid-Wilson Race 

Join me here Sunday for a special blog report on the first major poll in the ABQ congressional race featuring GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Dem challenger Patricia Madrid. The ABQ Journal poll will also have numbers for the state's two other congressional seats and approval ratings for the president and congress. I will have in-depth comments from pollster Brian Sanderoff as well as my own analysis. Tuesday I will call on more of my political gang for further comments.

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