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The Early Birds

New Mexico politicians build momentum for 2010

July 27, 2009, 12:00 am

With nearly 1.2 million registered voters in the state of New Mexico, it would take a statewide candidate 833 days working around the clock to spend a personal minute with each one of them.

And you wonder why candidates are announcing more than a year (and in some cases, more than two) ahead of the 2010 election.

Of course, no candidate expects face time with every voter, nor is it needed. Approximately 42 percent of registered New Mexico voters cast ballots in the 2006 midterm general election—the last comparable, non-presidential gubernatorial election.

But in a large, spread-out state, reaching voters—even indirectly—takes time and money, and the money takes time to raise. A candidate can have a recognizable name, an impressive record and unchappable baby-kissing lips, but unless he (or this time, more likely “she”) builds momentum early, the candidate won’t cross the finish line with enough of a percentage to hold his or her head high.

In fact, one early bird candidate already dropped out: former New Mexico National Guard Brig. Gen. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Zanetti, who told the press his decision was based on “family concerns.”

Zanetti likely won’t be the first candidate to come and go in the next year, proving that the top quality a successful public official needs to finish the race is endurance.

That’s where you, the voter, come in. Like the friends and family of runners who stand by the sidelines along the marathon route with paper cups of Gatorade outstretched, only supporters can keep their candidates from collapsing, whether that’s through fundraising, block walking or simply by signing up for Facebook updates.

Here’s the skinny on the candidates who are trying to recruit you early for their teams.

How to Read this Guide

Status: This guide covers the top three races in which there is currently competition and an expected primary race in both major parties: US representative for the 3rd Congressional District, governor and lieutenant governor. The candidates evaluated in this guide have either announced their intentions to run, formed exploratory committees (a technical term for testing the waters), begun hiring staff, are more than 75 percent certain they are running or are incumbents. Although the political sphere is filled with other rumored candidates, these are not included—with one exception: Former US Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican, has expressed strong interest in a bid for governor but has taken no official action. She is, nonetheless, generally considered the frontrunner in the Republican primary.

War Chest: A combination of the candidates’ cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance statements, as well as any money the candidates claim to have raised thus far for the race.

The Political Scale: SFR identified five Republican and five Democratic wonks to weigh in on how conservative or progressive each of the candidates is on a scale of 1 to 5. SFR granted the panel anonymity in order to elicit candid responses.

    1. Democrat in Name Only/Republican in Name Only
    2. Moderate or “Bluedog” Democrat/Moderate Republican
    3. Straight Party Line
    4. True Progressive/True Conservative
    5. Too Far Left/Right to Be Electable

Shadiness Percentile: SFR polled seven political journalists and editors from around the state for their impressions of the perceived integrity of each candidate. Journalists considered the candidates’ records on ethics reform, their campaign donors and close associates, conflicts of interest, and any scandals with which they may have been involved or implicated. The journalists graded each candidate on a scale of 1 to 100, which SFR then averaged. The journalists in this poll would only participate on condition of anonymity.

Pollster Prediction: Veteran political analyst Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., hasn’t polled any of the races yet, but he does have some strong inclinations about the directions they might take and provides his early predictions for each race. Research & Polling Inc. regularly conducts polls on politics and public policy for the Albuquerque Journal, and Sanderoff is a political analyst for KOAT TV Channel 7. 

US House of Representatives, 3rd Congressional District
There are nearly 350,000 voters in New Mexico’s 3rd District, which includes the northernmost third of the state (minus most of Bernalillo County), plus a sliver of eastern New Mexico. Sixty percent of those voters are Democrats, which explains why both the state and national Republican Party invested very little money in the 2008 race.

With the exception of Republican Bill Redmond (1997-1999), who won the seat in a three-way race in a special election, 3rd District congressmen tend to hold on to their seats—Richardson (1983-1997), Tom Udall (1999-2008)—before moving up the political ladder. Former Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Luján won the seat, which became open when Udall ran for the US Senate last year, after besting five other candidates in the Democratic primary and crushing Republican Dan East (who is considering a second run) in the general election. Congressmen are paid $174,000 per year.

Ben Ray Luján (D)
Status: Incumbent
If there’s a disconnect between New Mexico’s traditional “patron” politics of cronyism and Obama’s politics of change, Luján may be the missing link. He is his father’s son, and his father, House Speaker Ben Luján, is still one of the most powerful and old-school fixtures of New Mexico politics. By most standards, northern New Mexico’s freshman congressman has exceeded liberal expectations, particularly on renewable energy, through his seat on the House Committee on Science and Technology. And no one is complaining about New Mexico not receiving enough federal money (he claims $240 million in July alone for military and economic stimulus), though his opponents may use such figures against him as the nation’s debt swells.

The War Chest: $159,965 cash on hand as of June 30. In the first six months of 2009, Luján pulled in $289,000 in contributions, of which 56 percent came from political action committees, including those representing telecommunications, energy and labor interests. The rest were from individuals. Luján also has $127,000 in campaign debt.

The Political Scale: 3.6 = True Progressive. Based on his loud support for clean energy, health care reform and general loyalty to the Obama dogma, Democrats say Luján is emerging as a flag bearer for the new, true progressive movement.

Shady Percentile: 46.7% shady. While Luján has generally kept his nose clean in DC, his bloodline connection to old-school New Mexico politics keeps journalists wary. For example, they still wonder what deals went down behind-the-scenes that helped Luján win the Democratic primary. And while Luján has followed Obama’s lead and sworn off lobbyist contributions (though he still takes PAC money), Luján Sr. continues to accept thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations and interest groups, particularly those representing labor, casinos, energy and telecommunications.

On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@repbenraylujan),

Adam Kokesh (R)
Status: Announced
If Ron Paul were 50 years younger, ripped, handsome and a Marine veteran of the Fallujah campaign in Iraq, he’d be Adam Kokesh. In other words, Kokesh is positioned to seize the netroots national support of the Libertarian, Tea Party and 9.11 Truth movements. Horses don’t get much darker, but winning for Kokesh isn’t necessarily defined as an electoral victory. Paul will soon retire and Kokesh is well positioned to assume the Libertarian mantle. An anti-war activist, Kokesh says his main beef with Luján is the incumbent’s vote to continue funding the war, but ultimately Luján’s support for Obama’s economic strategy may motivate an already agitated Republican base.

The War Chest: $60,000 according to his website, one-third of which was raised during his Independence Day “money bomb.” Small donors, many from out of state, fuel his campaign.

The Political Scale: 4.2 = True Conservative. Kokesh’ rating as a true conservative illustrates the extent to which the anti-tax “Tea Party” movement is coming to dominate Republican philosophy. A year ago, he might have been rated too Libertarian to be elected due to his extreme anti-war stance.

Shady Percentile: 24.3% shady. Only half of the journalists polled felt familiar enough with Kokesh to evaluate his shadiness, but those that did expressed the opinion that, as a political outsider, Kokesh is free of the ethical baggage associated with New Mexico politics.

On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@adamkokesh),, iPhone app

Pollster Prediction: “The 3rd Congressional District heavily favors the Democrat and when there’s a Democratic incumbent, that further amplifies the lopsided nature of the race,” Sanderoff says. “As far as I can tell, [Luján] is staying out of trouble and working the district and, to boot, we’re still in a situation where the Republicans haven’t unified their message…Great odds in favor of Ben Luján.”

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