Primary winners, bummers

-A A +A
By Hal Rhodes

 “I congratulate Hector Balderas on a clean, well-run campaign. I know Hector has a bright future in politics and I look forward to working with him.”
Martin Heinrich handily won the Democratic nomination to fill the U.S. Senate seat from which New Mexico’s longtime Sen. Jeff Bingaman will retire in January. But in accepting victory, the first thing Heinrich did was to commend his primary campaign rival, State Auditor Hector Balderas, for a hard-fought but classy campaign.
Campaign mud-slinging is as old as, well…the beginning of political campaigns.
 Yet in recent years, old-fashioned mud slinging has been superseded by dung slinging and it has become an abomination, slime bearing slime, dishonesty and lies proffered as honest-to-God truth, and endless assaults on civility in our civil affairs.
 So it was a treat to watch these two bright young men face off in television debate and make their cases without maligning the integrity and intelligence of one another or the voters. Nor was there a single campaign commercial or mailer remotely resembling those ubiquitous election year atrocities known as “negative ads.”
Clearly, it is still possible to mount campaigns for high office in this country where issues are center stage and respect is displayed for those whose votes are being courted.
 So what happened the day after the June 5th primary? You might have seen the headline yourself. It appeared on the front page of one of New Mexico’s most widely circulated newspaper.   
     “Bloody Senate Battle Expected,” it predicted for the upcoming general election campaign pitting Heinrich against Republican Heather Wilson.
Civility in political campaigns is not contagious, it seems.
That was obvious to anyone who followed the Democratic primary battle for the Dist. 1 U.S. House seat Heinrich currently fills, where onlookers were reminded anew just how nasty campaigns can become when the candidates allow it.
You may have noticed that a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has lately emerged as a popular launch pad for a berth in the U.S. Senate.
 Four years ago, all three New Mexico congressional incumbents — Dist. 1 Republican Heather Wilson, Dist. 2 Republican Steve Pearce and Dist. 3 Democrat Tom Udall — ran for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici. Wilson lost the Republican primary to Pearce, who lost the general election to Udall.  
   Come election year 2012 three ambitious Democrats, one by one, unveiled themselves as candidates for their party’s nomination to the congressional launch pad called Dist. 1.
First came state Sen. Eric Griego, a former Albuquerque city councilor, followed by Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, an attorney and former state Health secretary.
 Whereupon, ex-Albuquerque mayor and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martin Chavez joined the fray.
They seemed a congenial lot at first, but as the campaign wore on and polls going into the primary showed Griego and Lujan Grisham tied for the lead, with Chavez bringing up the rear, the snarling began.
A widely disseminated Chavez mailer suddenly materialized in voters’ postal boxes alleging horrid things against the two front runners in the hope of making them damaged goods and creating an opening for the former mayor to slip through on Election Day.
Then Lujan Grisham and Griego, along with supporting PACs, opted to malign one another with shrill attack ads on local TV screens and radios, even as voters were trekking to the polls..
So, now, the “victorious” Lujan Grisham heads into the general election against the Republicans’ Dist. 1 nominee, Janice Arnold-Jones, with mud around her ankles.
 It was a disconcerting primary season. Parallel to the praise-worthy Heinrich-Balderas contest were spectacles like the Lujan Grisham-Griego-Chavez affair.
Winners and bummers of their own making.
Hal Rhodes
New Mexico Progress