BY JOE MONAHAN It’s official. The Democrats have their worry beads out over the secretary of state’s race. The first round of campaign finance reports set off the worrywarts as they began gaming the contest between Bernalillo County Clerk and Democratic secretary of state hopeful Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Roswell State Rep. and GOP contender Nora Espinoza. Both are unopposed for their party’s nomination in the June 7 primary and will face off in November. That report showed Toulouse Oliver with $105,000 cash on hand, compared to $78,000 for Espinoza. A few days after the reporting deadline, Espinoza announced she also had more than $100,000 in cash. The race has been previously framed as a lay-up for the Dems because of the expected higher voter turnout in this presidential election year and the assumption that Espinoza, known for wearing showy hats and holding deeply conservative views, would not mount a significant campaign. But the cash count and developments on the campaign trail seem to dispel that notion.
Photos from the GOP fundraiser show Espinoza shedding her trademark hat that gave her a nonserious air. In its place is a newly styled candidate looking the part of a professional businesswoman.Espinoza spoke on a recent Sunday at a large fundraiser held on behalf of the New Mexico GOP by Valencia County attorney and former State Rep. David Chavez. Photos from the GOP fundraiser show Espinoza shedding her trademark hat that gave her a nonserious air. In its place is a newly styled candidate looking the part of a professional businesswoman. A liberal group backing Toulouse Oliver labels the secretary of state contest as “competence versus crazy,” and it’s that meme that Espinoza hopes to prevent from taking hold. Former Albuquerque City Councilor Greg Payne, a Democrat, veteran political consultant and freshly minted attorney, is one of those casting a fresh eye on the secretary of state match-up. “It’s obvious that they are working to change Nora’s image and are going to be serious about trying to keep this office in the Republican fold. The assumption that the turnout model makes a win automatic for Maggie has been upended. The electorate is not excited about any of the possible presidential candidates. I think we will have an increase in turnout but one that a Republican could withstand if they can get their vote out, as they usually do. There is also an ethnic factor for the Democrats, with the Rs again putting up a Hispanic surnamed secretary of state candidate,” Payne opined. Republican Brad Winter is the current secretary of state. He was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill the position when Dianna Duran, the first GOP officeholder to serve since the 1930s, was forced to resign over the misuse of campaign funds. This election is to fill out the remaining two years left in Duran’s term. There will be another election for a full four-year term in 2018. Democrats did little to inflict lasting damage to the GOP brand over the Duran scandal, treading lightly, as has often been their approach during the Martinez administration. That approach was also on display in Toulouse Oliver’s ill-fated 2014 run for secretary of state when she was hammered relentlessly by TV ads but failed to respond. She lost to Duran, who was re-elected 52 percent to 48 percent. Payne says Toulouse Oliver, who has won widespread praise for her job performance in two terms as county clerk, is spending too much on consultants ($65,000 of $190,000 raised), needs to craft a stronger TV image and prepare for partisan warfare.
A liberal group backing Toulouse Oliver labels the secretary of state contest as ‘competence versus crazy,’ and it’s that meme that Espinoza hopes to prevent from taking hold“She needs to be wary of thinking that a broad bipartisan approach alone will necessarily work in this topsy-turvy political environment. Espinoza will work to push her to the far left, and Maggie will have to push her to the far right. She has plenty of ammo to do that, but she must learn how to pull the trigger. This is not a county clerk’s race,” Payne said. At that Sunday GOP fundraiser, Espinoza was already sharpening her attacks on Toulouse Oliver, claiming she is soft on voter fraud, voter ID and is too involved in “progressive” causes. That’s the red meat that drives GOP-base voters to the polls. Espinoza may have shed the hats but not the political hat tricks that have given the Rs a historic run in the office of secretary of state. Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com.
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