SANTA FE – Bill Richardson has reappeared in New Mexico’s governor’s race.
No, the former Democratic governor isn’t running for his old seat, but he is featured prominently in a new television ad launched this week by Republican Steve Pearce against his Democratic opponent, Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Trailing Lujan Grisham in a recent Journal Poll, Pearce has increasingly sought to link his opponent to Richardson, saying in a recent interview that a Lujan Grisham administration would “look a lot like” Richardson’s.
The new 30-second ad highlights Lujan Grisham’s past tenure as state Health Department secretary under Richardson, but does not mention that she was also a Cabinet secretary under two previous governors – Republican Gary Johnson and Democrat Bruce King.
It also claims the “Richardson gang” is behind Lujan Grisham’s campaign, depicting several former Richardson staffers, Cabinet secretaries and appointees to back up the claim.
“They’ve taken advantage of us before,” the narrator says in the Pearce ad. “Why would we ever want to go through this again?”
Dave Contarino, Richardson’s former chief of staff, worked with the Lujan Grisham campaign during the primary election, and former Aging and Long-Term Services Secretary Deborah Armstrong – now a state representative from Albuquerque – was Lujan Grisham’s campaign treasurer until recently.
Other individuals featured in the ad, ex-Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos and former Transportation Commission member Johnny Cope, do not have roles in the Lujan Grisham campaign, though both have made donations.
“This ad is Steve Pearce’s admission that none of his false attacks against Michelle are true, because if they were, he wouldn’t have to run such a silly ‘kitchen sink’ ad,” Lujan Grisham campaign spokesman James Hallinan said.
Meanwhile, the ad also cites contracts that a health care consulting firm co-founded in 2008 by Lujan Grisham got to run the state’s high-risk insurance pool. Lujan Grisham divested herself from Delta Consulting last year, after she announced her gubernatorial campaign.
In response to the ad, a Richardson spokeswoman said the contracts were awarded on a competitive basis and the Governor’s Office had nothing to do with them.
“Gov. Richardson is disappointed in Steve Pearce’s desperate and dishonest attacks,” spokeswoman Madeleine Mahony said Thursday. “He’s always considered Steve a friend and a gentleman.”
“Pearce has tarnished the reputation of many upstanding citizens with his pathetic and unfair attacks,” she added.
Richardson left office in 2010 with low voter approval ratings, and outgoing GOP Gov. Susana Martinez also invoked Richardson – and pay-to-play investigations into his administration – during her gubernatorial campaigns in 2010 and 2014.
The new ad is running on network television stations statewide, and the Pearce campaign is spending roughly $170,000 to air it, said Pearce campaign adviser Kevin Sheridan.