GOP Senate primary degrades into nasty fight
Greg Sowards has taken the gloves off after Heather Wilson attacked him; Sowards also accuses Wilson of sending an anonymous hit piece to some delegates, but her campaign denies it.
With Greg Sowards fighting for his political life and Heather Wilson trying to knock him out, the Republican U.S. Senate primary has become especially nasty in the final two weeks before Saturday’s preprimary nominating convention.
Sowards has been particularly harsh, sending at least three letters and a flyer to delegates arguing that Wilson is a liberal who has been plagued by scandal and that Democrats “can’t wait to drill down and hammer Heather’s history.”
Sowards’ attacks came after Wilson sent a news release earlier this month hitting him for “lobbying Bill Richardson for Obama stimulus money to fund his company” and highlighting a news article that explored that issue.
Around the same time, someone anonymously sent the same article to some Republican delegates. Sowards alleges the Wilson campaign sent it, which would violate FEC disclosure rules because it was done anonymously. It’s a charge the Wilson campaign denies.
Getting the support of at least 20 percent of delegates at the preprimary convention wins a candidate a spot on the primary ballot; it’s also considered a sign of organizational strength and enthusiasm. Candidates who fail to win 20 percent can stay in the race by collecting more signatures, but they are generally not taken seriously after that and have an awful track record on Election Day.
Sowards has pledged to stay in the race regardless of what happens Saturday. But the former congressional candidate knows the importance of the preprimary. He has said if he wins on Saturday national media organizations will be on his doorstep and he will have the endorsements of five U.S. senators within 10 days.
So, in spite of a previous pledge to run a positive campaign, Sowards is working hard to destroy Wilson’s reputation among GOP delegates.
Wilson hits Sowards
Wilson, who lost the 2008 U.S. Senate primary to the more conservative Steve Pearce, is way ahead of Sowards among primary voters. The last poll, an internal survey released by her campaign, had her leading by 71 points.
But delegates to the preprimary – generally the most active Republicans in the state – are more conservative than the primary electorate; they gave Wilson only 45 percent of the preprimary vote when she ran for Senate in 2008. A Wilson spokesman said Sowards will probably get at least 20 percent of Saturday’s vote and might get as much as 30 percent.
You can question whether Wilson is lowering her own expectations so her convention win impresses, but she’s also shown she’s not taking anything for granted by trying to knock Sowards back. Her March 2 news release is an example.
“In an interview on KKOB 770 this morning, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Greg Sowards struggled to explain why he lobbied Bill Richardson for Obama stimulus money to be spent on his own company,” the release stated. “The question came up when a caller pointed to a recent article that appeared in the conservative Weekly Standard that questioned how Sowards could publicly criticize the Obama stimulus plan when in private he lobbied for money from Obama’s stimulus package to be spent on his own company.”
You can view that Weekly Standard article here. In it, the author wrote that Sowards “speaks the language of the Tea Party” and is a proponent of the free market. But Sowards makes the “vast majority of his income” from the government, the article stated, and, as the owner of several Las Cruces child-care centers, he has brought in “some $1.6 million since 1998.”
From the article:
“More problematic: Sowards pushed New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to use stimulus funds – what his campaign website calls an example of ‘Obama’s socialism’ – to keep that money coming.”
Sowards has attempted to explain the situation on NMPolitics.net before, saying government subsidies “are so prevalent that it’s impossible to stay away from them” but he and his wife have used “a business model that wasn’t built on government subsidies to the point that we would lose our business if they were to stop.”
In the Weekly Standard article, Sowards was quoted as saying the state’s involvement in child care left him little choice but to take the subsidy, saying, “When you’re in an industry subsidized by the government, if you’re not involved you put yourself at a great disadvantage.”
The anonymous mailer
The day before Wilson sent out her news release, two letters were mailed from an Albuquerque post office (view the envelopes) to GOP delegates including Betty Russell of Las Cruces, a former board member of the local Tea Party and a Sowards supporter. The first, a personal letter from Wilson, was identified as coming from her campaign.
The second included the Weekly Standard article and an unsigned letter attacking Sowards.
“Is Greg Sowards a conservative?” the letter asked. “I thought so until I read this article about how he makes his money. I was shocked to learn that Greg begged BILL RICHARDSON to give him OUR money to benefit his business!!!”
The letter ended with the note, “WE the PEOPLE are Taxed Enough Already.”
Wilson spokesman Christopher Sanchez said the letter “did not come from the campaign,” but Sowards alleges that it “clearly” did. He noted that both letters were mailed from Albuquerque on the same day and just after Wilson’s news release highlighted the Weekly Standard article.
Russell said delegates who had already pledged support for Wilson didn’t receive the letter. Who besides Wilson and Sowards, she asked, would have the delegate list and information about which delegates support Wilson?
Republican Party spokeswoman Annaliese Wiederspahn told NMPolitics.net the delegate list “is available just to campaigns, and campaigns are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to have it for use.” So it’s not supposed to get out to others like Tea Party groups.
After participating on a call with other Tea Party organizations from around the state on Tuesday, Russell said she’s “confident” none of them sent it, but she’s concerned the Tea Party might be criticized for sending an anonymous mailer.
“If it didn’t come from (Wilson’s) camp, then who else had the list?” Russell asked. “To me, it’s an issue of underhandedness to send out something that’s not signed.”
“How would we send that out? We don’t have access to the list,” Russell said, adding that, in Las Cruces, Tea Party policy requires the group to sign anything it distributes.
Sowards said there’s no question in his mind that Wilson sent the letter.
“But no, I wasn’t in the post office or in her back room, so I can’t prove it, but the evidence is painfully obvious,” Sowards wrote in an e-mail. “It was an orchestrated hit. Breaking the FEC rules. I am honest enough to sign my campaign literature.”
Russell said she had to make clear for this article that she was speaking as an individual, not a Las Cruces TEA Party representative. The organization doesn’t endorse candidates.
Sowards takes the gloves off
After delegates received the anonymous letter, Sowards took the gloves off. In the past week he has repeatedly hammered Wilson in mailers, on his website, and during phone calls with delegates.
The first – and harshest – of three letters he sent brought up past allegations against Wilson in accusing her of improperly pressuring former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and, as the former head of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department, burying a child abuse allegation against her husband. It also stated that her staff was linked to an “illegal voter registration scheme.”
That letter painted Wilson, a former member of the U.S. House, as someone who isn’t a true conservative. It highlighted past votes to raise the debt ceiling and “fund Planned Parenthood with taxpayer dollars.”
A second letter stated that the facts “clearly do not support Wilson’s representation that she is a conservative leader.” A third stated that Wilson has “neglected” conservative principles and implied that she’s not pro-life. The flyer Sowards mailed out painted Wilson as unelectable.
On Sowards’ website, he accused Wilson “and ruling class elite Republicans in Washington” of “desperately twisting the truth in their hit piece by the establishment favoring Weekly Standard.”
He defended his business again, stating that Wilson, when she was CYFD secretary, “de-incentivized the quality care of New Mexico children and offered additional subsidies for poor quality care.”
“The policies that she pushed forward, created a ‘join or die’ dilemma. Wilson helped force the Child Care industry into this situation,” Sowards’ website states.
“I am thankful that Wilson brought up the issue of subsidies, because it gives me a platform to talk about the destructive effect that career politicians have had on our lives and businesses,” he wrote. “They and their obnoxious sense of entitlement have long crippled small business owners with unnecessary and burdensome regulations. It is the height of arrogance to attack my successful small business where we employ 75 people and care for over 600 children so their mothers can work and go to school…”
“For Wilson to expect us to not accept the state program for low income families is akin to a grocery store not accepting food stamps, which could be construed as discrimination,” he wrote.
Wilson defends herself
Wilson has responded to Sowards’ attacks with a letter from her husband and a phone call from former U.S. Rep. Bill Redmond.
Husband Jay Hone highlighted Wilson’s work for CYFD.
“She sold her business to one of her employees and went to work on behalf of some of the most vulnerable New Mexicans,” his letter stated. “While Heather had leadership skills that the Department really needed, her commitment was deeper than that. We had been foster parents together and we have one grown adopted son who was a foster child. She had seen the tragedy of children who are abused and neglected first-hand and she knew she could make the system work better for them.”
In his automated phone call, Redmond said his mailbox has been flooded with “false attacks about Heather Wilson.”
“Don’t believe them. Take it from me. Heather Wilson is pro-life. I did the research myself. She believes strong families are the foundation of America, and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife,” he said. “Heather is leading the fight here in New Mexico against the Obama Administration’s attacks on our religious liberties. Heather is a woman of strong faith and unquestioned integrity.”
“…I trust Heather, and you can too,” Redmond said.