Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: The Heaviness of Being Lite Guv

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
September 30, 2010

 Perhaps the major challenge that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish has faced this year is trying to convince everyone that she is truly independent from the man with whom she ran in the past two elections — Gov. Bill Richardson.

The lieutenant governor and her supporters have pointed to instances in which she clashed with the governor. She has insisted that she’s outside of Richardson’s social circle.

But will that be enough to offset the associations between the two Democrats and the repeated allusions to the Richardson/Denish administration by Republican candidate Susana Martinez and her supporters? A man who eight years ago was in a position similar to Denish’s doesn’t think so.

Walter Bradley served eight years, beginning in 1995, as lieutenant governor under Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. Bradley ran for governor himself in 2002 but lost a bitter primary contest with political upstart John Sanchez, who now is Martinez’s ballot mate.

“You cannot divorce yourself from the administration you’re serving,” Bradley said in a recent interview. “Whatever is negative — small or large — is going to stick to you.”

History seems to back him up. Although many have tried, no sitting lieutenant governor since 1916 has succeeded in winning the New Mexico governorship.

Flashback — Manny’s way: Granted, Johnson himself wasn’t a big issue in the 2002 GOP primary. In fact, in the most notorious attack of that primary, Sanchez didn’t try to link Bradley to Johnson but to another powerful politician of that era — Democratic state Sen. Manny Aragon.

In a mailer denounced by many Republicans as well as Democrats, Sanchez claimed Bradley “does it Manny’s way.” Part of that charge was based on a procedural vote in the New Mexico Senate in which Bradley agreed with Aragon’s argument.

Of course, Bradley didn’t really do things “Manny’s way.” For instance, Bradley never was indicted or sent to prison on federal corruption charges. But despite the criticisms, the mailer didn’t hurt Sanchez in the primary. He smashed Bradley at the polls.

Differences with the administration: And, while Johnson’s performance wasn’t at the center of that campaign, one Johnson issue that most Republicans ran away from was his opposition to the war on drugs.

That was the major disagreement Bradley had with Johnson. Bradley, a Clovis resident, opposed Johnson’s call to legalize marijuana and liberalize other drug laws. “I broke with him on that and did it publicly,” Bradley said.

But that didn’t work, Bradley recalled. Many people just assumed he supported Johnson’s platform of drug-law reforms.

But Bradley, now a lobbyist for dairy farmers, says the problem facing any lieutenant governor goes deeper than any single issue. “I firmly believe it’s a mindset,” he said. “People want a change, particularly after eight years. I think that’s the driving force. People want something new and fresh. You’re part of (the administration). ... It’s a no-win.”

Darth Richardson: It’s too bad for Richardson that the Daily Kos didn’t ask New Mexicans their views of Manny Aragon. Had the national liberal blog done that, it might have identified a New Mexico political figure with lower approval numbers than Richardson’s.

If there’s any doubt why Martinez keeps showing pictures of Richardson in her attack ads against Denish, just look at the poll the blog commissioned for this state. It shows Martinez beating Denish 50 percent to 42 percent. Perhaps the more startling number, however, was the approval rating for Richardson.

“Denish seems to be being dragged down by the administration she’s served as lieutenant governor,” says poll analysis by Joan McCarter. “The most unpopular Democratic politician in the state is Gov. Bill Richardson, whose approval rating has cratered to 27 percent.”

Twenty-seven percent. We’re talking Dick Cheney levels. The poll of 1,307 likely voters by a Democratic firm called PPP was conducted Sept. 25-26 and has a 2.7 percent margin of error.

UPDATE: The earlier version of this post listed an incorrect poll figure figure for Diane Denish. It has been changed to reflect the correct number.