Recover password

Party chair’s mission to show King can beat Martinez

The day after New Mexico’s primary election last week, the state Democratic Party’s chairman was on a plane to Washington, D.C., to tout his candidates and, yes, ask for money.

Sam Bregman, the party’s controversial, outspoken chairman, came to Washington to meet with movers and shakers at the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association, union representatives and, as it turned out, this reporter.

I sat down with Bregman over coffee on Thursday morning in downtown D.C. and it was quickly apparent that one race in particular was on his mind. That, of course, was the looming contest between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and newly-minted Democratic nominee Gary King. Bregman was well aware of the chorus of criticism that erupted following King’s election night victory in the crowded five-way race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

The party’s displeasure with King came in a few forms but the gist is that some Democrats – especially younger voters – don’t think the 59-year-old, mild-mannered New Mexico attorney general has enough charisma and fire in the belly to beat Martinez, a well-funded, generally popular Republican governor.

Bregman insisted that Democrats elected the best candidate if they want a shot at unseating Martinez in the November general election. He noted King’s intelligence on the issues, vast political experience (he is the son of the late, popular Gov. Bruce King) and his network of supporters around the state.

“We are unified coming out of this primary,” Bregman said, noting that three of the four candidates who lost to King on Tuesday showed up to a press conference on Wednesday to endorse him in person, while the fourth issued an endorsement via email. “The numbers just support Democrats. New Mexico is a very blue state.”

Bregman did acknowledge, however, the massive uphill fundraising climb King faces. According to my colleague Thom Cole, who crunched the numbers last week, King’s campaign had just $76,000 in the bank as of May 27. Martinez had $4.2 million. Bregman said Democrats have a better ground operation than Republicans in New Mexico and will beat Martinez on the issues.

“I realize that Governor Martinez’s polling numbers have shown that Governor Martinez is fairly popular, but she is beatable,” Bregman said. “Our economy is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the country. If we want to talk and have a substantive campaign – and Democrats will – about the economy and jobs and child well-being, there is no reason she should win this race or get another four years.”

Bregman didn’t hide his disappointment about recent comments made by the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Vermont Gov. Peter Schumlin, who suggested the group wouldn’t spend money in New Mexico because Martinez appears unbeatable.

“He didn’t help anything,” Bregman said. “But I’m going to ask them to take another look at this thing … and see what happens when the substantive debate of the issues starts to take place.”

Bregman also downplayed a comment he made several years ago in which, as an attorney representing a client King was trying to prosecute, he called King the worst attorney general ever.

“In the heat of the moment of litigation, lawyers say things sometimes,” Bregman said. “If that’s the best they’ve got right now – if they’re going to start out a campaign talking about what I said as a private citizen three and a half years ago? Listen, Gary King would make a wonderful governor.”

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Hyperbole and politics go hand in hand, but sometimes the over-the-top rhetoric just makes you laugh.

At least that’s what happened when I asked Mike Frese, the Republican nominee for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, about a recent fundraising letter in which Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested that Frese was “handpicked” by the Koch Brothers. The deep-pocketed Koch Brothers are public enemy number one in the eyes of Democrats, who accuse them of buying elections with their millions in campaign contributions to conservatives.

Asked about Lujan Grisham’s claim, Frese literally burst into uproarious laughter over the phone and took several seconds to compose himself.

“I’ve never heard from them, nor have I met them,” Frese said, noting that he spent $100,000 in his primary race, half of which came out of his own pocket. “But I hope they will contribute!”

Asked about the letter, Lujan Grisham somewhat sheepishly conceded that the claim was a stretch. But she said Frese is a tea party candidate and those are the candidates the Kochs tend to support.

“Being an official tea party candidate in New Mexico is tantamount to being picked by the Koch Brothers,” Lujan Grisham told me. “But that may be a little bit too strongly worded and made it sound like we’ve had direct knowledge of (participation in Frese’s campaign) by the Koch Brothers themselves.”