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Wielding the Washington Whammy

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A new batch of advertising has Martin Heinrich and Heather Wilson each trying to make the other seem the bigger Washington insider.

That means Wilson, a Republican and former five-term U.S. House representative, is casting Heinrich as the man to blame for a struggling economy and an unproductive U.S. Congress.

“If you like Washington, you’ll love Martin Heinrich,” a Wilson TV commercial says.

But Heinrich, a Democrat who replaced Wilson in Congress in 2009 as the representative of the 1st Congressional District, has been quick to remind voters that Wilson is no stranger to D.C., either.

In fact, the current U.S. House member seems to imply that Wilson is the current officeholder rather than himself.

“Heather Wilson has been in Washington a long time. After 10 years in Congress, she’s lost touch with New Mexico families,” a Heinrich commercial says, without mentioning that he is the current member of Congress.

Heinrich released a second ad Monday that repeats the Wilson-Washington insider theme.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the efforts of both candidates to tie their opponent to Washington is a bid to connect the candidates to a highly unpopular U.S. Congress. Just 13.3 percent of Americans currently approve of Congress, according to poll data averaged by the website Real Clear Politics.

“The classic thing is that citizens love their member of Congress, but they hate Congress. I think it’s always popular to run against Washington,” Atkeson said.

Heinrich’s ad was a response to Wilson attacking the Democrat for being too Washington, she said.

“He’s pointing out, you’re quite the Washington insider, as well,” Atkeson said.

But it’s unclear whether the Washington insider line has much sway on New Mexico voters, the political science professor said. That’s because New Mexico has a history of repeatedly sending the same people back to Congress term after term, Atkeson said.

For example, retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was re-elected four times after his initial election in 1982. Former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., served 36 years in Congress. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., represented the northern New Mexico congressional district for nearly 10 years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. And Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr., R-N.M., represented the 1st Congressional District for 20 years, from 1969 through 1989.

“You’ve got these people we elected again and again and again,” Atkeson said. “… There is nothing that indicates (New Mexico voters) don’t mind sending their members of Congress repeatedly back to Washington.”

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