For most of 2007, former City Councilor Martin Heinrich had the Democratic field in replacing Heather Wilson in Congress virtually to himself. But the first poll showing him faring poorly against Sheriff Darren White, the probable Republican nominee, brought out real challengers. With them has come a word we’re hearing more in Democratic circles: electability.
An October 2007 poll covered by Roll Call showed White crushing Heinrich by 18 points. It also showed White beating Heinrich among Democrats by nine points and besting Heinrich by nearly 20 points among independents. White enjoyed stunning name ID at 74 percent and an unfavorable rating of only 15 percent.
This wasn’t good news for the first-term councilor trying to leap from a part-time job paying $9,963.20 to a $169,300 federal paycheck.
Heinrich has been running for Congress since Heather Wilson squeaked past Patricia Madrid in November 2006. Inside baseball kept other significant Democratic contenders at bay for most of that time. Heinrich’s strategy has been to lock up the nomination at the pre-primary convention in March and avoid getting roughed up in a primary election fight.
Heinrich is a darling of the Democratic Left. But he’s only run for office once in the most liberal Council district--and won with less than 50 percent of the vote. Objectively, he has less experience than Sally Mayer, who is in her second term on Council. He deserves credit for legislatively salvaging the minimum wage increase after its rejection by voters. That’s been his greatest accomplishment. But that win didn’t much broaden Heinrich’s base. The failure of the initiative at the polls showed minimum wage workers just don’t vote, even to give themselves a raise.
Heinrich gained unwanted notoriety with the Central Avenue trolley car controversy. By pushing a $270 million project many saw as a boondoggle, accompanied by a tax increase and a deaf ear to cries that voters should be let in on the decision, Heinrich quickly came to the attention of a city fiercely opposed to his plans.
“There is a question whether Martin has ever had a full-time job in New Mexico.”
Heinrich’s résumé doesn’t match up well against White’s. White served in the heralded 82nd Airborne. He has a long career in law enforcement, beginning with a beat in Houston to running the State Police under Gov. Gary Johnson to serving two terms as Bernalillo County Sheriff. In his last election, Democrats didn't try hard to beat him.
Heinrich’s campaign résumé says he was once a small businessman. He obtained a business license for “Heinrich Consulting” in December 2004. The details of that business remain vague and he’s not known to have had any employees. Before serving on the Council, the last and only employment listed for Heinrich is executive director of The Cottonwood Gulch Foundation.
A former Democratic Party chair calls this “Heinrich’s camp councilor job.” Cottonwood Gulch, located in woods near Bluewater Lake, is in fact little more than windowless huts, fire pits and a dining hall, the only building with electricity.
Robert Pidcock, an attorney who entered the race this year, has researched Heinrich’s background. “There is a question whether Martin has ever had a full-time job in New Mexico,” he says, “and whether Congress should be the first full-time job the guy has in his life.”
In 2006 to early 2007, Heinrich also spent a few hours every week as Gov. Bill Richardson's Natural Resources Trustee, an office with hardly any power or funds and lacking even an operable website.
Other entries on Heinrich’s résumé are drawing scrutiny, particularly ties to radical environmentalists and eco-terrorists. As an aside to Heinrich supporters: I am not revealing anything the GOP and Heinrich’s Democratic opponents don’t already know.
Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her challenge to Heinrich last October. Former Rep. Manuel Lujan is her cousin. She worked for Govs. Bruce King and Gary Johnson as director of the Agency on Aging. Richardson named her Secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, then promoted her to supervise the 4,000 employees of the New Mexico Department of Health.
Grisham has matched Heinrich’s quarterly fundraising, though she’s still chasing him in total dollars. She’s hired pollster Celinda Lake and has a full campaign staff. A Hispanic woman with deep community roots, Lujan could fare better against White than Heinrich. One Democratic blogger predicts she would “mop the floor with White.” Just last month, former three-term New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron entered the race. She’s starting very late. But she is never to be underestimated. Former State Rep. Pauline Eisenstadt says Vigil-Giron “turns this into a three-way race.”
While the Democrats sort it out, Darren White sits on a distant hill, astride the white horse of his law enforcement credentials and bipartisan popularity, awaiting whomever rides out to challenge him.