It’s on: The Jennings-Pirtle state Senate race in Roswell gets rough
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Long-time Roundhouse incumbent and Democrat Tim Jennings has launched a website with his re-election campaign called “They Hate Roswell” — referencing comments Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff Keith Gardner made in a secretly recorded conversation released last month — that Republican opponent Cliff Pirtle says is an attack on his upstart candidacy against the sitting Senate pro tem.
Asked if the website shows that the gloves are off in the race, Sen. Jennings said, “I didn’t put the gloves on … I’m not going to lay back and let them slander me.”
Last month, when the tape was released in which Gardner called Jennings a series of extremely profane names, Jennings initially turned the other cheek, telling Milan Simonich of the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership, “Sometimes, you get into a new position and, well, I guess you can say things in the heat of battle…”
But Jennings is now firing back with both barrels, launching the website that offers viewers a chance to listen to the 1 hour and 13 minute secret tape recorded without Gardner’s knowledge by Brian Powell of the Roswell Fire Department, and highlighting some the expletives as well as the derogatory things both men say about their hometowns.
Why launch the website?
Jennings says it’s because of fliers being distributed in Senate District 32 criticizing Jennings on a host of issues, including, Jennings says, linking him to disgraced former state Senate leader Manny Aragon, who is sitting in a federal prison in Colorado on corruption charges.
“People should know where these things are coming from,” Jennings told Capitol Report New Mexico in a phone interview Thursday (Oct. 4). “I think it’s all tied to the governor’s office and [Martinez political consultant] Jay McCleskey … I find [the Aragon comparison] extremely offensive.”
In an interview later in the day, Pirtle says he feels the same way about the Jennings website that, while not mentioning Pirtle by name, criticizes “unprecedented attacks by his [Jennings'] Republican opponent.” The site also highlights a TV and radio ad that refers to Jennings’ opponent as “a puppet.”
“The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me,” Pirtle said. “They’re trying to make it out like I hate Roswell … He calls me a puppet in the ad. I’m my own man and I make my own decisions.”
“I haven’t said anything about Pirtle,” Jennings said.
Here’s the TV spot, judge for yourself:
“People are smart enough to pick their own elected officials,” Jennings said, adding, “When [Gardner] made those comments, that he’s going to raise a half million dollars to beat me, all I’m doing is repeating what he said.”
“I can’t control outside expenditures and what they do,” Pirtle said, although he said the fliers harshly criticizing Jennings “haven’t been an attack in my opinion. I call it the truth.”
Jennings has served in the state Senate since 1979 and is one of the most influential legislators in the Roundhouse. Jennings hasn’t had a general election opponent since 2000.
Pirtle is a conservative Republican who ran and lost to Steve Pearce in the GOP primary in 2010 in Congressional District 2 in the southern part of the state.
Jennings has raised $98,255 compared to Pirtle’s $32,637 according to the latest financial records from the Secretary of State’s website.
But conservatives, trying to pick up GOP seats in the state Senate, are spending dollars in independent expenditures in the race through a political action committee, Reform New Mexico Now , that Democrats say is tied to the Martinez administration.
Jennings is considered the decided favorite to win a ninth term but admits “My district is more conservative than it’s ever been.”
“I’ve gotten quite a bit of attention,” Pirtle said of the race. “It’s gotten everyone in town discussing it.”
That’s an understatement as big as the entire Senate district.
Update: Here’s the mailer linking Jennings to Manny Aragon (click on the images to see them unobstructed):
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Capitol Report New Mexico, Cliff Pirtle, Jay McCleskey, Keith Gardner, Manny Aragon, Milan Simonich, Reform New Mexico Now, Steve Pearce, Susana Martinez, Texas New Mexico Newspapers Partnership, They Hate Roswell, Tim Jennings