Monday, March 28, 2011

Senate Hopeful John Sanchez: Positioning Himself as Steve Pearce By Another Name

Sanchez It's being leaked all over the internet that our current lieutenant governor, right-winger John Sanchez, intends to announce his entry into the U.S. Senate race in New Mexico in the very near future. In fact, the word is Sanchez may formally announce on April 15 -- tax day -- in order to get the Tea Party peeps all excited. There have been recent pieces on Politico, The Hill (here and here) and the National Journal -- mostly generated by a visit by Sanchez to Washington for a convention with other LGs around the country. The right-wing blog, The Daily Caller, even touts Sanchez as "the next Marco Rubio," the new Senator from Florida who's a Tea Party pet, as well as a fave of the conservative Republican establishment.

Yes, the guy without a college degree who used to work as an airline steward and made his money running a roofing company seems to be gaining traction as THE go-to guy to run against former U.S. Rep. (and Rhodes Scholar) Heather Wilson and others for the Republican Senate nomination -- and a chance at the seat being vacated by Dem Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Why? He's positioning himself as to the right of the right, and he has an Hispanic surname -- a combo that brought his superior, Susana Martinez, to the governor's office despite her lack of appropriate experience in government or politics.

Sanchez mentioned the Hispanic advantage in his interview with The Daily Caller:

Sanchez notes census figures show the Hispanic population in New Mexico is rapidly increasing, and that he and Governor Martinez garnered nearly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. He believes conservative Hispanics can be a key part of a winning coalition. “We’re not going to concede the Hispanic vote to the Democratic Party,” he tells me.

Hispanics Using Immigration as a Wedge Issue
It can be rather confusing to follow how the Hispanic factor enters into the Susana Martinez win and the coming Sanchez Senate campaign. Martinez used immigration as a wedge issue in both her electoral campaign and what seems to be a form of never-ending campaigning she employed during the just-ended New Mexico legislative session. She has banged the anti-immigrant drum loudly in using the repeal of driver's licenses for foreign nationals as a divisive and corrosive mainstay of her attacks on Dems in the legislature. She has also issued an executive order requiring state law enforcement officers to check immigration status, and has suggested she doesn't support comprehensive immigration reform.

In the wider Hispanic/Latino political environment, Arizona-style anti-immigrant rhetoric and attacks are generally viewed in a very negative light by those of Hispanic descent. Here in New Mexico, however, the political calculation by Martinez and Sanchez seems to be that immigration can be used to divide Hispanics, as well as Anglos, into two camps -- those who identify with the plight of Mexican immigrants, including hardworking undocumented workers, and those who apparently look down on them as evil criminals.

Having It Both Ways
It's as if Martinez and Sanchez are positioning themselves to attract Hispanic voters with their surnames and ethnicity, while also adopting the often racist, anti-immigrant mantle of the Tea Party. They clearly think they can have it both ways.

As Sanchez told The Hill, he believes he has

the "political courage" to tackle immigration reform, despite the controversial nature of the issue for many GOP primary voters.

"I think what we're lacking in the U.S. Senate are people who are willing to have the political courage to take on the issue of immigration reform. Coming from a border state, being an Hispanic, I think provides a great perspective [on] it.

Well, one that seems to match the perspective of the far right, anyway. It's hard to tell how many New Mexicans are willing to follow him down that path. Although Sanchez is telling reporters about his "his willingness to crack down on illegal immigrants," he has refused so far to be specific about what that means in terms of things like the Dream Act or anything else.

It's also difficult to see how Sanchez could be a leader in the immigration reform battles. If he wins a Senate seat, he will have zero seniority and almost no clout.

Sanchez: A Thin Resume for a Senate Candidate
Perhaps Sanchez doesn't yet have a clear understanding of how the U.S. Senate operates. His political experience consists of one-year stints as a trustee and councilman for the Village of Los Ranchos, a few months on the job as the current lieutenant governor and a two-year stint in the New Mexico House, from 2000-2002. He left the House for a failed run against Bill Richardson for governor, losing 55.5% to 39.1%. He also was the Southwest Regional Chair for the George W. Bush Presidential Campaign in 2004 -- essentially a money-raising post.

In essence, the latest version of John Sanchez is an ideological clone of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, albeit with an Hispanic surname, less education and a dearth of applicable experience. The militantly right-wing Pearce lost in a landslide in his 2008 Senate race against Dem Tom Udall, after vanquishing former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson in the GOP primary. Now Sanchez is making the same noise about Wilson that Pearce did -- attacking her as being old hat and "too moderate." Back when he served in the NM House, however, Sanchez wasn't quite so right-wing. For example, according to Project Vote Smart, he supported the interests of the NM Federal of Labor, AFL-CIO 71% of the time in 2002 and 58% of the time in 2001.

Sanchez Says Heather's Too Moderate
This time out, though, he's following Steve Pearce's path to a Senate nomination, aligning himself with the extreme right-wingers of the Tea Party era, and defining Heather Wilson as a relative lefty. As Sanchez told The Hill:

"I think Heather served honorably. But if we consider the choices that were made by former establishment candidates, I think it's clear the choices will be very easy for the people of New Mexico.

"Do they want a return back to the days of moderate-type leaders [whose] conservative compasses [weren’t] pointed in the right direction? Or are they looking for somebody who doesn't have to reinvent himself?" he said. "I think the choice for U.S. Senate is abundantly clear." 

This past Sunday, Sanchez was in Moriarty kissing the arses of 100 "Tea Party faithful," explaining how his views on taxation matched theirs, and claiming he has a track record of "understanding conservative values." Of course Heather Wilson -- who used to make a big deal about her allegedly "moderate" views -- was also at that gathering, claiming she, too, has a lot of Tea Party support. Many in the right-wing echo chamber seem to be siding with Sanchez early on. As noted on the conservative website, Human Events:

The same party activists who helped conservative Rep. Steve Pearce defeat then-Rep. Wilson in the '08 Republican Senate primary have been making it clear they are not ready to just hand over the GOP Senate nod in 2012 to someone they regard as not sufficiently conservative. Cultural conservatives recall Wilson 's pro-abortion position and the Club for Growth has long been critical of her support for Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding ... He is strongly pro-life (the then-state Rep. Sanchez was a leader behind parental notification legislation) and has taken the lead on conservative issues, notably right-to-work measures in his state. 

Mimicking Steve Pearce
Human Events
also noted the rather odd and problematical tensions created when an Hispanic candidate takes a very hard line on immigration issues (just like Anglo Steve Pearce did and does):

Does a hard-line manifesto on immigration alienate Hispanic voters? Although there is a case for this, Sanchez believes this is changing "among second-generation Hispanics, people who are in business and must see the economic damage caused by illegal immigration." He noted that he and Martinez minced no words on this issue and won the statehouse (the two ran as a team) by garnering nearly 40% of the Hispanic vote.

I'm sure we'll all be waiting to see documentation of Sanchez's claim that immigrants are causing economic damage to second-generation Hispanic business people. It will also be fascinating to follow him as he holds fast to the extremely conservative views of former Senate loser Steve Pearce while, at the same time, touting himself as a candidate who is attractive to Hispanic voters in the state.

Will New Mexico's voters be willing to swallow the mixed messaging that Sanchez is both a strong Hispanic candidate and one who mouths the same "tough talk" about immigration and other issues that has long been a staple of the lily white denizens of the Republican right wing? It's a conundrum alright, trying to fit two identities into one suit and expecting to get away with it.

Although the right-wing ideologues who dominate the New Mexico Repub Party picked Pearce over Wilson in the GOP Senate primary last time -- will they do the same thing in 2012? After all, Pearce and his radical-right views were big losers with general election voters 2008. Will staking out the far right boundaries of the GOP ensure the same fate for Sanchez, despite his Hispanic surname? Will Heather Wilson prevail despite grumbling from the NM GOP base? Or, will Steve Pearce, himself, decide to jump into the race? Regardless, it should be an enlightening primary season on the right side of the aisle, and one the national media will no doubt be following closely.

March 28, 2011 at 05:34 PM in 2012 NM Senate Race, Border Issues, Heather Wilson, Hispanic Issues, Immigration, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, Republican Party, Right Wing | Permalink | Comments (5)