Inside the Capitol

Monday, April 04, 2011

4-6 GOP Senate Race

WED, 4-6-11
SANTA FE – The GOP U.S. Senate race to replace Sen. Jeff Bingaman in 2012 promises to be full of excitement if it ends up a face-off between former US Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez.
Wilson already has announced. Sanchez is officially "considering" a run. But he slipped recently and revealed his decision already has been made. If he does run, the race should be even livelier than the 2008 battle between Rep. Wilson and Rep. Steve Pearce.
All the elements of suspense will be present: a lieutenant governor who looks strong in the primary election, a former U.S. representative who could be strong in the general election and a governor who clashes with both despite having close ties to both.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who gives indications of national political aspirations in 2012, will have to share the spotlight with her lieutenant governor and the former head of her transition team.
It won't be easy – or pretty. Gov. Martinez has given indications she doesn't like to share the spotlight. Soon after her election, she sent new Lt. Gov. John Sanchez on a fishing expedition to every county in the state to find out what businesses want. The results were to be turned into legislation.
No legislation in the 2011 session was publically advanced as being a result of that tour. I received no news releases or saw any media reporting on the visits of Lt. Gov. Sanchez when he journeyed to each county.
Could the tour have been primarily to keep the lieutenant governor out of the way while Martinez put together her government? One definite result of the tour was to strengthen Sanchez's ties in every county of the state. It is highly likely that Sanchez met with every single GOP county chairman in the state.
Sanchez has run for statewide office four times already so he already knows the state. But this tour was as a public official and it is certain to have done him much good. Although Bingaman had not made his retirement announcement yet, Sanchez, 48, knew he would have future political opportunities even if Bingaman ran again.
Sanchez says he's the true conservative in the Republican primary. He had only two years in the New Mexico House to establish a record but he didn't stand out as being the Tea Party-type of conservative he now says he is.
Rep. Wilson had 10 years in the U.S. House to build a moderate record, somewhat similar to that of Sen. Pete Domenici. It may have been Pete to whom Sanchez was referring when he called Wilson a relic of the past. I hope so. It is difficult for a person of 73 to hear a 50-year-old referred to as a relic of the past.
Domenici may be a relic but he never had any trouble winning elections. That is what Wilson is talking about when she says she is the only Republican candidate capable of winning statewide election.
Republican winners of high public office in New Mexico during the past 80 years all have been rather moderate. Besides Domenici, they include Govs. Ed Mechem, Dave Cargo, Garrey Carruthers and Gary Johnson.
If John Sanchez does win the GOP senatorial primary, you can be sure the Democratic candidate, whoever that might be, will tie every unpopular act by the Martinez administration directly to Sanchez, just as Martinez tied Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish to Gov. Bill Richardson. You might call it a game of pay-back.
As I have often noted, no New Mexico lieutenant governor has ever been part of a governor's administration. They always are kept out of the loop. But that reality never has been believable to the voting public.
For that reason, lieutenant governors have always had trouble moving to higher office. I can find only one governor, one U.S. House member and one state Supreme Court member who have moved up since statehood.


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