Mayor Martin Chavez is running to the right of his Republican challenger, City Council President Brad Winter. Chavez has so isolated himself from large segments of Democratic voters he has no choice but to chase Republican votes. He was reminded of this imperative when he was creamed in a recent Democratic Party straw poll that saw his leading Democratic rival, City Councilor Eric Griego, far outpace everyone else.
Now Chavez is spreading claims he is "more conservative" than Winter. His campaign has gone so far as boasting that Chavez is the better Republican.
Marty Chavez masquerading as a conservative Republican? Get real.
Remember the heady days of the first Bill Clinton administration, when Marty trudged along in running shoes and sweats next to his buddy Bill when the prez was in town for a visit? Not exactly a pair of fleet-footed gazelles, to be sure. It won't take much for Winter to dig up the film footage. Reminding Republicans that Chavez was a friend of Bill will clear up any confusion some Republicans may be suffering about who Marty really is.
Then there's the Chavez endorsement of the presidential bid of Howard Dean, the Democrat Republicans currently love to hate. And Winter can always go with that GOP standby, connecting your opponent with Manny Aragon. There must be a few photos showing Chavez and Aragon together. Those shots are always good for stirring Republican bile, even if the connection is tenuous.
In response to his new Republican rival, Winter began his attacks with a mailing reminding GOP voters of the ABQPAC scandal, in which Chavez accepted tens of thousands of dollars from people doing business with the city. But I don't think that will do the trick in locking in the Republican base as much as it's going to hurt him with Democrats. Today's Republicans don't seem bothered very much by graft or ethical misconduct. If they are willing to overlook the criminal records of State Sen. John Ryan and Ken Zangara, chairman of the Bernalillo County GOP, what's a little ABQPAC scandal, right?
Today's GOP is not the reform-minded GOP of Teddy Roosevelt, or even Newt Gingrich. Rather, self-interest and fear are the keys to GOP votes. Chavez showed himself to be a poor imitation of a GOP politician when he fumbled the issue that captures both these concerns: The Supreme Court's recent ruling in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments can take private property away from one person so that another may profit.
Chavez enthusiastically welcomed the ruling. What he didn't see coming was the growing firestorm over a Supreme Court ruling that hasn't been seen since the reaction to the landmark abortion ruling of Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court's decision encompasses nearly all of the conservative movement's talking points about runaway courts, assaults on fundamental freedoms and big government. As the dissent by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor points out, the decision gives powerful insiders, particularly developers with their lobbyists and lawyers and pots of campaign contributions, control over virtually all private property. The Supreme Court's decision means that if you can get city government to do your bidding, you can take anyone's house to build a Wal-Mart, a hotel, an office building or anything that will make you money.
The little guy gets shoved aside. He is powerless to keep his home in the face of a corrupt government controlled by powerful private interests. This is the sort of stuff that fed the rise of populist conservatism. It is the sort of fear that can be flogged relentlessly and never wear out because it is firmly grounded in the personal experiences of so many Americans.
Marty Chavez certainly enjoys the powers of big government. He is also tucked tightly in bed with powerful developers. Chavez didn't comprehend the fears of rank and file Republicans when he embraced a Court ruling giving him and his developer pals such frightening power. If Winter has any political skill, he can make Chavez pay dearly for letting his Republican mask slip.
Winter could start by following the example of the Bernalillo County Commission, which has disavowed the expanded powers of eminent domain created by the Supreme Court. He could introduce an ordinance prohibiting Albuquerque from taking private property to turn it over to developers and other private interests. The debate would establish Winter as a defender of property rights and a champion against big government, in unmistakable contrast to Chavez.
"Marty Chavez wants to take your house," is the kind of line that can fill talk radio with outrage for hours. It's a great sound bite for radio and TV ads. It's a theme Chavez could not escape, because he's already said that if the local government wants to take your house to enrich some developer, then that's what should happen.
Chavez has given Winter a strong play to protect his right flank, while Griego continues to grab more of the Democratic base. You've got to wonder where the Party of Marty will turn next.