Monday, October 1, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: How Will Susana Help Heather?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 30, 2012

Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to Tennessee and Texas last week to do some politicking — speaking to a Republican luncheon in Nashville on Wednesday and going to Houston and Austin the next day for a couple of GOP fundraisers.

HEATHER WILSONAnd, as KOAT first reported last week, in the coming weeks she’s expected to campaign for Mitt Romney in the Hispanic-heavy battleground states of Florida and Nevada.

Meanwhile, there’s been a lot of chatter here in this enchanted former swing state about why Martinez has been relatively invisible on the campaign trail — at least in the U.S. Senate and House races.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson could certainly use the help of the popular governor. Wilson consistently has trailed Democrat Martin Heinrich in that race. Last week, pundit Larry Sabato — director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and head honcho at the Sabato’s Crystal Ball website — changed his Senate map to indicate that the New Mexico Senate race is now “likely Democrat” instead of “leans Democrat,” as it had been for several weeks.

“If I were running Heather Wilson’s campaign, if I were Heather Wilson, I’d be knocking on the governor’s door for a TV endorsement,” said Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff. His recent poll for The Albuquerque Journal showed Martinez’s approval rate at 69 percent.

A television spot featuring Martinez offering a strong endorsement would be ideal for Wilson, Sanderoff said. Another option would be direct mail, featuring the governor’s image and a message touting Wilson, the pollster said.

I recently put the question to the Wilson campaign. “I expect the governor will be helpful,” spokesman Chris Sanchez said in an email.

And actually I do, too.

There’s no real political downside to taking that plunge. Even if Wilson ended up losing, nobody could honestly say that the loss was a reflection on Martinez’s clout.

And as Sanderoff pointed out, the two have a good relationship. Wilson, following the 2010 election, served as the chief of Martinez’s transition team. Martinez didn’t formally endorse Wilson in the Republican primary for the Senate seat. But her preference for Wilson was pretty obvious.

When Lt. Gov. John Sanchez announced he’d be challenging Wilson for the nomination, Martinez promptly released what more than one writer called an “icy” statement. She said Sanchez wouldn’t be given any assignments in her administration beyond the skimpy constitutional duties of the lieutenant governor. (The Sanchez campaign never really recovered from that. He eventually threw in the towel and endorsed Wilson.)

However, some argue that political endorsements don’t make that big of a difference anyway. Consultant Whitney Waite, a veteran of many GOP campaigns in this state, made a strong case for this position on a recent KNME New Mexico In Focus panel I also was on. I agree that endorsements often are overrated — though in this case, as far as Wilson is concerned, it couldn’t hurt.

Gov. Susana Martinez Spotlight on New Mexico: It’s not as if Martinez has been shy about getting into other races this election cycle. As Sanderoff noted — and I wrote about in last week’s Roundhouse Roundup — Martinez has been quite active in several legislative races, putting the heat on Democratic legislators who have opposed her agenda.

Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings of Roswell and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen already have been on the receiving end of attack mailers from SusanaPAC, Martinez’s political action committee, headed by her political director, Jay McCleskey.

Whether you agree with the content or tone of the attacks, it makes sense for the governor to focus on legislative races. It’s more of a direct pain to Martinez if Michael Sanchez remains majority leader in the state Senate than if Harry Reid remains majority leader in the U.S. Senate.