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Ex-Gov. Apodaca, a Democrat, endorses Pearce

Jerry Apodaca

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Former Gov. Jerry Apodaca – a Democrat whose son sought the Democratic nomination for governor this year – crossed party lines this week to endorse Republican Steve Pearce’s gubernatorial campaign.

In an opinion column published in the Journal, Apodaca, who served from 1975 to 1979, described Pearce as someone who would work with Democrats, Republicans and independents to move New Mexico forward.

And he aimed a few barbed criticisms at the state Democratic Party, accusing its leaders of having “forgotten about the JFK Democrats and Hispanic communities around the state.”

The endorsement means Apodaca is withholding his support from the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, who defeated his son in June.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won a three-way race for the nomination in the primary, claiming 66 percent of the vote. Her closest competitor – Jeff Apodaca, a former media executive – won 22 percent. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes finished with 11 percent.

Rep. Steve Pearce

Pearce, a member of Congress, was unopposed on the Republican side.

Brian Sanderoff, a political analyst and president of Research & Polling Inc., said the “bitter political feud” between Lujan Grisham and Jeff Apodaca created an opening for Pearce to secure the endorsement of a Democratic former governor.

“The Pearce campaign recognizes that they need significant Democratic Hispanic support in order to win the general election,” Sanderoff said. “From that perspective, this endorsement is a coup. However, it must be tempered by the fact that Jerry Apodaca was governor 40 years ago, thus many New Mexicans are not familiar with him.”

Pearce immediately highlighted Jerry Apodaca’s endorsement.

“I will work with anyone to put our state on the right path, regardless of party,” Pearce said in a written statement Sunday.

In his column, Jerry Apodaca said friends suggested he sit down with Pearce and Lujan Grisham, but he heard only from Pearce.

“I was surprised how open he was and how we agreed on about 80 percent of the issues that plague New Mexico,” Apodaca wrote. “I found him to be straightforward and an honest man. In fact, he reminded me of the moderate Democrats and Republicans of the past I worked with for the betterment of New Mexico.”

He didn’t mention that his son had lost to Lujan Grisham this year.

A spokesman for the Democratic Party, Joel Kasnetz, said Jerry Apodaca didn’t reach out to Lujan Grisham.

Marg Elliston, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said Pearce’s issue positions are “a disservice to JFK’s legacy.” Pearce, she said, is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House.

“This is sour grapes on the part of a candidate who didn’t win his primary,” Elliston said. “Nobody buys Pearce’s lip service to bipartisanship.”

In a brief interview, Jerry Apodaca disputed Elliston’s assessment.

“What does she know about it? She never talked to me,” Jerry Apodaca said.

The younger Apodaca ran an aggressive campaign, accusing Democratic Party leaders of colluding with Lujan Grisham to make it easier for her to win the nomination. Jeff Apodaca pitched himself as someone who would disrupt the status quo and turn around New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation.

Apodaca also appeared at a campaign event with Pearce this summer, though he said he wasn’t endorsing him.

Apodaca has started a weekly radio program on behalf of a group called New Mexico Democrats for Democracy focused on “reaching across the aisle” to discuss political issues.