UPDATE, Feb. 2, 11:50 p.m. In response to this article, campaign spokesman Corbin Casteel said Sanchez “has made no plans to exit the Senate race.” He said any source stating otherwise is “simply uninformed.” NMPolitics.net stands by this article.
A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that Sanchez has decided to drop out of the race; the lieutenant governor told NMPolitics.net he is a U.S. Senate candidate ‘as of today’
And while a spokesman said today that Sanchez has “no interest” in running for the First Congressional District seat being vacated by Democrat Martin Heinrich, who is running instead for Bingaman’s Senate seat, Sanchez was less clear in an interview with NMPolitics.net.
Sanchez didn’t confirm that he’s dropping out of the Senate race during the interview, but a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that Sanchez has made that decision.
Heather Wilson was the frontrunner in the GOP Senate primary already and remains in that position with Sanchez’s departure. But his exit from the race may create an opening for the other Republican candidate, Greg Sowards, who had been battling with Sanchez for anti-Wilson support and has stepped up his attacks on Wilson lately.
During his interview with NMPolitics.net, Sanchez sounded at times as though he intends to stay in the Senate race. For example, he said his campaign team is “preparing for the conventions and then obviously the final stretch in the spring.”
But instead of directly answering when asked if he would “swear” that he’s “not dropping out of the Senate race,” Sanchez, the state’s lieutenant governor, said this:
“I can tell you as of today I am a candidate for the United States Senate.”
“That sounds evasive,” NMPolitics.net replied. Sanchez went on:
“And I can tell you that I am not a candidate, though, for CD1.”
So, NMPolitics.net asked, even if you drop out of the Senate race, you definitely won’t run for the U.S. House?
“I am not a candidate for CD1,” he said again before ending the interview.
You can listen to portions of the interview here:
If the player doesn’t display, click here to download the audio file.
Campaign never got off the ground
NMPolitics.net does not know when Sanchez plans to announce his decision to leave the Senate race. He has been looking for a way to minimize the embarrassment of his botched campaign, the source said.
But candidates for the Senate seat must officially file on Feb. 14, so Sanchez will likely announce his decision on or before that date.
For Sanchez, the decision to drop out is an admission that the Senate campaign he launched in May never got off the ground. The last poll of the primary race, released in December, found 55 percent of Republican voters pledging support for Wilson, while Sanchez had the support of 20 percent and Sowards had 6 percent.
Some thought national money would pour into Sanchez’s campaign because of anti-Wilson sentiment among many right-wing Republicans, but it hasn’t happened. Sanchez’s last publicly released finance report had him raising $164,000 in the third quarter of 2011 and ending it with $250,000 on hand.
That compared with Wilson raising $530,000 in that quarter and ending it with more than $950,000 on hand, and Sowards raising $231,000 – much of it from himself – and ending it with $496,000 in the bank.
End-of-the-year finance reports, which were due by Jan. 31, might have put Sanchez in an even tougher position. Wilson ended 2011 with about $1.1 million in the bank, and Sowards, who has largely self-financed his campaign, ended with more than $600,000.
Sanchez’s end-of-the-year report isn’t yet available from the Federal Election Commission, and a Sanchez spokesman hasn’t responded to an e-mail request for fundraising numbers. Asked today how much he raised in the fourth quarter of 2011, Sanchez told NMPolitics.net he didn’t know. He said he had been busy with the ongoing legislative session in Santa Fe, but pledged to provide a copy of his report once it becomes public.
Little activity for months
Many have suspected for months that Sanchez’s Senate campaign was coming to an end. One of his last highly visible announcements was an endorsement in late September from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. Since then, there’s been little activity on Sanchez’s campaign website, Facebook page or Twitter account.
NMPolitics.net has also learned that Sanchez has missed many GOP events that Wilson and Sowards attended in recent months, including one held Jan. 28 in San Miguel County. Sanchez did attend a right-to-life forum on Jan. 12.
Sanchez’s run may have been hampered from the start by his less-than-stellar relationship with Gov. Susana Martinez. When Sanchez joined the race in May, Martinez said she would not give him any responsibilities in her administration beyond those granted by the Constitution. She said that was in an effort to keep the race “from becoming a distraction.”
Two days later, Martinez joined Wilson for her address to an economic forum in Albuquerque. Many interpreted that as an implicit endorsement.
What about CD1?
The Albuquerque Journal was the first to report today on rumors about Sanchez joining the First Congressional District race, quoting a campaign operative as confirming that some were encouraging Sanchez to seek the House seat.
“I have heard that,” the Journal quoted Manuel Gonzales, political director for Sanchez’s Senate campaign, as saying. “When Jon Barela announced he was not going to run in CD1, that started people talking and chattering. We’ve had some informal conversations about it.”
He added that he doesn’t believe Sanchez will join the House race.
Barela was the party’s 2010 nominee for the House seat and recently decided against running again this year. That leaves GOP primary voters to choose between three candidates many aren’t happy with – former State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis and Army veteran Gary Smith.
After the Albuquerque Journal published its report, Sanchez spokesman Corbin Casteel was quoted by the National Journal as saying Sanchez “has no interest in running for Congress.”
Later, when asked by NMPolitics.net about the possibility of joining the CD1 race, Sanchez didn’t say he won’t become a CD1 candidate. He simply said he’s not one right now.
“I am not a candidate for CD1,” he said. “I want to make that very clear.”
Sanchez doesn’t have to give up his job as lieutenant governor to run for other offices. The seat isn’t up for election until 2014.