Allen Weh sure wasn't acting victorious following his narrow delegate vote victory during Saturday's state Republican Party preprimary convention.
Weh, a former state Republican Party chairman and current candidate for the GOP nomination for US Senate, stayed behind closed doors powwowing with his staff for a good 45 minutes following the convention. Meanwhile his opponent, the unknown David Clements, pictured above, greeted convention attendees enthusiastically in the hallway against a backdrop of giddy supporters holding campaign signs and wearing "Keep Cool with Clements" buttons and T-Shirts.
Clements took 46.82 percent of the delegate vote, while Weh amassed 53.17 percent. Both candidates needed 20 percent to appear on the primary ballot in June, but Weh came into the race Saturday heavily favored. Clements says Weh's campaign began the day by telling delegates that Clements wouldn't be able to get more than 30 percent of the delegate vote.
When Weh finally did grant a media interview, he attributed his narrow victory to his "shoe-leather" door knocking over the past two months.
"I've only been a candidate for 52 days," Weh, 71, told reporters Saturday afternoon. "And that's the instructive relevant point in my view. And I'm the guy that had to go through these 52 days starting with nothing 52 days ago."
But Weh, who's CEO of CSI Aviation Inc, an aviation services company that contracts with the military and private industry, is well-known in the Republican Party and spent more than $2 million, much of it his own money, in his unsuccessful 2010 bid for governor. Weh also had been collecting signatures for his US Senate run this year long before he declared his candidacy.
Clements, a 34-year-old attorney who's never run for public office, says his campaign has so far only spent $26,000. He attributed his strong showing to the "strength of grassroots support" getting behind his message, which is libertarian-leaning in the vein of former Texas congressman Ron Paul. Clements, the former chairman of the Doña Ana County Republican Party, was part of a group of Ron Paul supporters, many of them in their 20s and 30s, who essentially swarmed the DARP convention last year and took over the party.
In many ways, the Clements vs. Weh primary is a battle for the future soul of the Republican Party. Though both Clements and Weh's convention speeches contained a lot of themes expected from Republican candidates—broad statements about God, Obamacare, the brokenness of Washington DC and the future direction of the country—Clements found a moment to criticize "a government surveillance program that's out of control" in an unveiled reference to the NSA scandal that's been in the headlines for the last year.
"Clearly there's a difference in issues," Weh, a veteran of wars in Vietnam, the Persion Gulf and the 1993 expedition in Somalia, told reporters about his and Clements' visions. "He believes in a smaller military. I believe in a sufficiently-sized military that can defend this nation at a time when Al Qaeda is growing."
Weh criticized libertarians for having "isolationist" views and argued that they won't show up in the November election if Clements loses the GOP primary in June.
"There are things that libertarian Republicans say or believe in that I believe in," he said. "Balancing the budget, nobody would disagree with that. [But] they tend to be isolationist in their views of the United States' role in the world, and i don’t believe in a dangerous world that we can be an isolationist nation."
There were also reports that Weh's operatives distributed a copy of a previous SFR profile of Clements that quoted him referring to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a hero to delegates on Saturday. The "hero" statement was apparently highlighted. When asked about Snowden, Weh told SFR that he belongs in jail.
"I can tell you right now that Edward Snowden is not a hero," Weh said. "Most Americans—Democrats, Republicans and Independents, see what he did as a treasonous act that put American lives in danger. I'm talking about out intelligence officers and operatives, as well as foreign intelligence resources that were working for us."
Public opinion polls on Snowden have been contradictory at best and, if anything, reveal divided opinions on the role of government surveillance programs in the US.
Despite many proclamations at the convention of party unity, the primary between Clements and Weh has been divisive itself, with Clements' camp alleging just days before the convention that Weh's campaign cheated Bernalillo County GOP delegates and hacked into his campaign email account. Weh vehemently denied the allegations, stating that he's disappointed that Clements is attacking the integrity of "several Bernalillo County [Republican Party] officials."
Clements defended the allegations on Saturday but downplayed them, contending that he's "trying to focus on party unity."
"I like to think of [Ronald] Reagan's big tent as our message," he said. "There's a lot of room in our party if we embrace liberty and responsibility, and I think that that message crosses not only factional lines in the party, but party lines."
Clements and Weh will next face each other in the June primary election. The winner will be on the November general election ballot against incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, who is heavily favored for reelection.