Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 04, 2008

9-8 Pearce Closing on Udall

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Labor Day usually begins the home stretch of the political season. If candidates aren't ready to run by now they soon will be looking at the back sides of their opponents.
In New Mexico's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Tom Udall never slowed down after the June primary. Ads he had been running during his uncontested primary continued without pause.
Meanwhile Republican Steve Pearce took time out for regrouping, staff shuffling and fundraising. Pearce didn't get ads up until August and those have been aired primarily by special interest groups.
That is fortunate for Pearce because last Wednesday the Republican senatorial reelection committee announced that it would not be helping Pearce at all. Republican groups have been raising only about half what Democrats have this year.
That's a complete reversal from the past. The House and Senate GOP reelection committees have tried to remedy the situation by asking their members of Congress who have little or no opposition this year to contribute heavily to the reelection committees so they can put the money where it counts.
But few have been willing to share so the reelection committees have been concentrating on their incumbents who are in trouble. So far it hasn't hurt Pearce. His ads, funded by outside groups this past month have narrowed Rep. Tom Udall's lead from 25 points in June to less than 10 points now.
Pearce could make up that difference from his own deep pockets but has seemed reluctant to do so. He may be wise. Self-funding of campaigns usually doesn't work in New Mexico.
Gary Johnson did it successfully in his campaigns. Harry Teague used his own money to get himself over the top in his 2nd Congressional District primary contest this year.
It didn't work for Phil Maloof in his races against Heather Wilson 10 years ago. And it didn't work for losing Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District in the June primary. Generally, if you can't raise enough money from others, you can't win their votes either.
Ed Tinsley, in the 2nd district might have used some of his own money to help him hold off big spending opponents in the June primary but he didn't and won anyway. Bruce King, who served longer than any other governor in the state's 400-year history, was famous for never spending a penny of his personal fortune.
If Pearce can depend on outside groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club For Growth, to keep shoveling in the money for his campaign ads, he may be able to close the gap behind Udall farther.
Retiring Sen. Pete Domenici sent out a July fundraising letter asking his donors to help out Pearce.
It was quite a gesture because the senator hasn't been enthusiastic about giving Pearce a formal endorsement because of his irritation with the Club For Growth ads run for Pearce against Rep. Heather Wilson in the June Senate primary that also indirectly went after Pete.
The Club For Growth ads against Udall ratcheted up the campaign tension considerably. The organization has some of the same big contributors as the Swiftboat campaign ads against Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.
In August, Pearce began supplementing the television ads with full-page newspaper ads attacking Udall supporters for being hysterical left-wing environmentalists. The top half of the page featured two eye-catching hippies out of the 1960s and the bottom half charged that Udall put fish before families.
So far, Pearce TV ads seem to be preaching to the choir. The strategy seems to be that Pearce is solidifying his base but Pearce's conservative base already is quite solid. One ad talks about Udall's view on property. Voters without much property to their name aren't likely to be moved. References to eminent domain and estate taxes likely blow right past them.
Udall's only stumble so far has been concerning debates with his opponent. Pearce needs the debates. Udall doesn't. But he ends up looking scared.
MON, 9-08-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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