Long-shot GOP candidate for Senate has unconventional message

David Clements meets with ladies from the Republican Party in Albuquerque. (Joey Peters)

When the budding legalization of same-sex marriage rights swept both the US and New Mexico this past summer, most partisans reacted with the expected narrative—praise or contempt.

But in the southern part of the state, the newly elected chair of the Doña Ana County Republican Party (DARP) responded with an unconventional critique of the situation. David Clements lamented how the people of the United States have "welcomed the government into our marriages by promoting subsidies and tax breaks in order to promote the nuclear family."

Those polices have unintended consequences, says Clements, who last week announced his candidacy for US Senate in 2014.

"By providing government benefits to some and withholding from others," he wrote in August, "We provide the very legal foothold progressives need to establish grounds for lawsuit based on discrimination. In this writer's opinion, when we remove marriage from government control, we save it."

Clements, a 33-year-old assistant district attorney and self-described "constitutional conservative," is a novice to politics. He was prompted to become involved during law school at the University of New Mexico when the housing market bubble burst and the federal government bailed out big banks.

He's also part of a group of libertarians and Ron Paul supporters who, after months of on-the-ground planning, swarmed the DARP convention this past spring. Their efforts paid off as they took most of DARP's officer positions and 21 of 29 available state GOP central committee seats.

Now, Clements is attempting to bring the same brand of conservative politics statewide in a long-shot bid for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Tom Udall, who before earning the Senate spot served for a decade as a US Representative, and before that was a two-term New Mexico attorney general.

Beating the incumbent Senate Democrat in the November 2014 election would be a coup for the GOP, but first Clements will have to best other Republicans in the June primary. To do that, he'll have to overcome the notion that his perspective is out of the mainstream for conservatives.

"It's what the Republican Party used to look like, period," he says.

Clements praises whistleblower Edward Snowden, who's leaked several documents exposing the vast extent of the country's intelligence industry, as a hero. He criticizes corporate America as an "unholy gathering of big government and special interests." He warns that the Federal Reserve's policies of printing money and lowering interest rates will "destroy the purchasing price of the US dollar and rob Main Street of a real recovery."

The nation, Clements argues, is home to a type of "crony capitalism"—not the free market economy that he supports.

"We've created a system where it's not really capitalism," he says. "It's not someone who has to suffer the consequences of bad work and harming their consumers."

Clements' brand of conservative politics has been gaining relevancy in Republican circles across the country over the past few years, most notably in the 2008 and 2012 presidential candidacies of Ron Paul.

Clements identifies as a "constitutional conservative," which he says guides his politics. It can be further defined as a free market approach that limits the federal government's powers to only those explicitly expressed in the U.S. Constitution, leaving institutions like welfare programs up to the states.

"I'm not going to modify my understanding of the Constitution to favor something that I might be passionate about," Clements says.

Udall comes with a high approval rating, a recognizable name brand and more than $1.5 million already in the bank for his reelection. Republicans have been so hesitant to take on Udall that Clements is the first to announce a challenge.

His first job is to mobilize a coalition of Republicans to win the party primary. That means using a similar ground game strategy he and others employed for the DARP convention earlier this year.

Clements and others affiliated with the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Mexico planned months ahead to get their supporters to attend the county convention.   Roughly 80 to 90 "liberty" activists, many of them in their 20s and 30s, showed up to cast votes at the event.

Republicans have been so hesitant to take on Udall that Clements is the first to announce a challenge.

Jeremy Diaz, a 19-year-old libertarian activist who attended the convention, describes the atmosphere there as akin to that of a middle school dance.

"As soon as you walked in the place it was a split room," Diaz says. Libertarians and Ron Paul supporters occupied one side and the old guard Republicans on the other.

Some of the old guard Republicans questioned the ability of the younger activists to lead the party.

"No one really wanted to acknowledge me," says Diaz, "but I was a vote, so that's where they made the mistake."

Luis Gomez, a 22-year-old New Mexico State University student and a sergeant in the Army National Guard, also recalls an older member questioning his commitment to the Republican Party, as well as the country. When Gomez mentioned being deployed to Egypt, he says his critic shut up.

In the end, the libertarian activists' strength in numbers prevailed. An online thread by activists titled, "We staged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party" explains the mood of the day.

"We literally overwhelmed [the convention], and booted these Mitt Romney establishment idiots out the freaking door!" the post reads. "If you are sick of the government, get a bunch of friends, and overthrow your local county political party."

Clements, though, says he's spent the months since then trying to establish common ground with the rest of the party's base. So far, in his chairmanship, he's hosted a "Right to Life" event, a health care event, and is planning an upcoming elections event with Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

Similarly, he's attempting to rally the differing Republican bases in his young Senate candidacy. Over the weekend, he attended a luncheon in Albuquerque sponsored by the New Mexico Federation of Republican Women to introduce himself and gather signatures to get on the ballot.

Gwen Poe, who met Clements at the event, says she liked his willingness to stick to constitutional and financial issues.

"I'm fiscally conservative first," Poe says. "It's nobody else's business what I think about women's rights, the death penalty and those things, because that's a personal issue."

State GOP Chairman John Billingsley says what happened in Doña Ana County "speaks well" for the libertarian wing of the party, but adds that the future of the party isn't reserved solely for libertarians and their sympathizers.

"There are always going to be a number of people in the party that have a very specific agenda," he says. "So that's nothing new."

But Santa Fe County Republican Party Chair Orlando Baca says it's nice to see younger people get involved. He compliments Clements for having "new, refreshing ways of looking at things."

At least two other Republicans will soon announce candidacies for Senate, Billingsley says, though he would not specify names.

Former 2010 gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh, Alamogordo Mayor Susie Galea and former Democratic Rep. Robert Aragon have all been rumored to run.

Santa Fe Reporter

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