Gary King needs to raise half the amount of what his opponent has in her treasure chest to have a chance of knocking her out of office this fall.
At least that’s what former Gov. Bill Richardson says. Over the weekend, he offered to lend a hand in setting up a Washington DC, fundraiser for the Democratic gubernatorial contender in the near future.
“Gary needs to get more visibility in Washington and he needs to raise money,” Richardson tells SFR.
That’s not the only part of the November election where the former governor is getting involved. Shortly after King won the primary last month, Richardson phoned Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association. In April, Shumlin declared that his group, which gives financial support to Democratic candidates for governor in close elections, would not likely participate in the New Mexico general election because of the strong likelihood that Gov. Susana Martinez would win another term.
Richardson says he spent 20 minutes explaining to Shumlin the legacy behind the King name in New Mexico—Gary’s father Bruce King served three terms as governor after a state legislative career that included a stint as speaker of the house—as well as the Democratic Party’s strong history with the state and its recent blue trend in presidential elections.
Richardson says his points were well received. “I told him Gary was a strong candidate,” he says. “I urged the DGA to look at this race closely.”
Still, he got no commitments from Shumlin other than that the DGA would take a second look at the race as it proceeds.
Things aren’t helped by the latest campaign finance reports, which are pretty much a reflection of the state’s conventional political wisdom: Martinez is a shoe-in for reelection while King has no chance in hell at ascending from attorney general to governor.
King raised $320,000 during the last campaign cycle, which began in late May and ended last week. The majority of that money, $200,000, was a loan from himself. Martinez, on the other hand, raised nearly $870,000 in the same period. She ended the cycle with $4.3 million in the bank, much more than King’s $116,000 cash on hand.
Since his win of the crowded Democratic primary, King has been pummeled by attack ads as well as an embarrassing shakeup in his campaign manager position. King’s original campaign manager Jim Farrell left following the primary, then his replacement Steve Verzwyvelt quit within the first week after a news outlet exposed several of his fratboy-esque Twitter posts including one that urged overweight women to not wear bikinis.
Keith Breitbach took over the position in late June. Breitbach began his political career in Iowa in the mid-’90s and most recently ran the campaign of Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California.
The attack ads rehash unfriendly headlines King has suffered throughout his tenure as attorney general for the past eight years.
They include hits for King’s troubles going after Medicaid fraud, a lawsuit against him alleging gender-related pay discrimination in the Attorney General’s Office and being called “the worst attorney general ever” three years ago by now-state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman.
Martinez and the RGA’s strategy of attack ads are notable for their early timing: five months before the general election.
“I think they watched what Obama did to [Mitt] Romney, and the attempt was to define Romney before he defined himself,” says Alan Webber, the retired Santa Fe businessman who finished second in the June Democratic primary for governor.
Most of these negative ads are coming from the Republican Governors Association, of which Martinez sits on the executive committee and which is chaired by Martinez ally and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Of Martinez’ seven TV ads so far, just two are dedicated to bashing King. The RGA has already spent more than a half million on three ads last month, all attacking King.
RGA connections with Martinez don’t stop there. McCleskey Media Strategies, a political advertisement agency run by Jay McCleskey, Martinez’ chief political adviser, received $30,000 from the RGA between January and March for “Arizona/Nevada consulting,” according to a disclosure with the Internal Revenue Service. McCleskey didn’t respond to SFR’s questions about his firm’s work for the RGA.
The Martinez campaign also paid McCleskey Media Strategies $77,500 for producing her ads and consulting the campaign in June.
Federal election guidelines prevent groups like the RGA from coordinating their spending with political candidates.
Richardson had a similarly close role with the DGA during his 2006 reelection campaign, chairing the organization that year and the year before. New Mexico donations from the DGA during that period were limited mostly to the $16,000 that it gave to the state Democratic Party in the fall of 2005.
Richardson didn’t need the extra help that year, as he cruised onto victory with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Four years later, the DGA contributed nearly $1 million to try to indirectly help then-Lt. Gov. Diane Denish win election for the state’s top office over Martinez.
When he ran for governor earlier this year, Webber emphasized that he was the Democratic candidate best fit to attract the out-of-state money needed to compete against Martinez, who often heads lavish fundraisers in Washington DC.
Webber puts King’s needed money target somewhere between $2 million to $4 million and argues that now is the time to begin contacting organized labor and environmental advocacy organizations outside of the state that would be interested in a Democratic governor in New Mexico.
“I think there’s no real secret to [who] these different institutions and organizations are,” he says. “It’s just a matter of reaching out to their leadership.”
Webber himself donated $5,200 to King last month, reaching the maximum amount under state election code.
Breitbach dismisses the notion that Martinez can “buy the election” and argues that King will resonate on his family’s political background and the state’s economic issues under Martinez. Still, he knows that the King campaign must look at all its options. “Money is important in elections,” he says. “But at the end of the day all candidates aren’t created equally.”
As of press time, he told SFR that he wasn’t aware of Richardson’s offer.