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A Republican battle in New Mexico that mirrors a national debate in the GOP

By   /   March 3, 2014  /   8 Comments

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — A fight is taking shape in New Mexico that mirrors a political battle playing out across the country — the struggle over the direction of the Republican Party.

In one corner is Allen Weh, a 71-year-old Marine Corps veteran and business owner who is well-known across the state and, for lack of a better term, considered a “conventional” Republican.

In the other corner is little-known lawyer David Clements, 34, a self-described “strict constitutionalist,” who has been labeled an “unconventional” Republican for some of his more libertarian views.

REPUBLICAN VS. REPUBLICAN: David Clements (left) and Allen Weh are facing off in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate in a battle that reflects some of the tension in the Republican Party on a national, as well as state, level.

REPUBLICAN VS. REPUBLICAN: David Clements (left) and Allen Weh are facing off in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate in a battle that reflects some of the tension in the Republican Party on a national, as well as state, level.

Both men will square off June 3 in the Republican primary, with the winner facing U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from a well-known political family who won his U.S. Senate seat in 2008 by getting more than 61 percent of the vote.

Weh beat Clements at the GOP pre-primary convention Saturday. That wasn’t a surprise. The close vote was, however.

Weh got 53.17 percent of the vote. Clements received 46.83 percent.

“My opponent was telling people they had a 70 percent to 30 percent advantage going in so … we’re quite encouraged,” Clements told New Mexico Watchdog a few minutes after the results were announced.

Weh, meanwhile, huddled with his campaign team behind closed doors for about 45 minutes before talking to reporters.

“I tell you what, 53 (percent) wins this thing, and I was very happy because I’ve only been a candidate for 52 days and that’s the instructive, relevant point to the win in my view,” Weh said.

What’s also relevant are the distinctions between Weh and Clements and how much their race may determine the direction for the Republican Party in New Mexico.

Just as Rand Paul is considered a standard-bearer for a more libertarian wing of the GOP — which has clashed on foreign affairs issues with long-time Capitol Hill Republicans such as John McCain or social conservatives such as Rick Santorum — Clements is seen by some as representing the new guard.

Weh, then, represents the old guard.

“That’s probably true,” said state Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.

“Weh is a known product,” said state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque. “Clements is a contrast with Weh since he’s not the known product … The key to the race is who will put out the best message to the people and who will move New Mexico in the right direction.”

Larrañaga and Rehm said they haven’t made up their minds between Weh and Clements.

To be sure, Clements and Weh see eye-to-eye on a host of issues — such as balancing the budget — but there are marked policy differences in other areas.

Upon entering the race in the fall, Clements said he hoped to appeal to voters of all stripes who “are sick of perpetual war.”

“They (libertarians) tend to be isolationists in their views and the United States’ role in the world, and I don’t believe in a dangerous world we can be an isolationist nation,” Weh said Saturday.

Like many libertarians, Clements has spoken out against the National Security Agency’s data collection program and what he calls the “invasion of privacy rights” on the part of the government. At Saturday’s pre-primary convention, Clements said he would fight against “a government surveillance program that’s out of control.”

But Weh defends the intelligence-gathering program, and said Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked documents to media outlets, is no hero.

“Most Americans — Republicans, Democrats and independents — see what (Snowden) did as a treasonous act against this country that put American lives in danger … You don’t jeopardize people’s lives that are serving for the country,” Weh said. “That man was treasonous for what he did, and he ought to go to jail.”

In addition to policy differences, there is plenty of antagonism between the staffers on the Weh and Clements campaigns.

Last week, Clements officials accused a Weh political adviser of hacking into their email accounts. This came after Weh received more delegates than Clements in a Bernalillo County Republican delegate election leading up to Saturday.

“Our campaign’s email was hacked and compromised and we were able to trace it back to Allen’s campaign manager, Diego Espinoza,” Clements said Saturday. “So yeah, there’s some friction there.”

Weh denied the charges, saying, “The simple fact of the matter is there were more Weh supporters in Bernalillo County than Clements supporters.”

So is the tension more personal than political?

“I’m not really sure what it is,” said Clements. “I don’t really assign a label to myself. I just kind of go out and fight for what we believe in.”

“I never knew this man until I declared my candidacy,” Weh said. “I live in Los Ranchos, N.M., he lives in Las Cruces, N.M., 200 miles away. I’ve never encountered him, so there’s nothing personal there.”

Then there’s the money difference.

Founder and CEO of an aviation company in Albuquerque, Weh spent more than $1 million in self-financing when he ran and lost the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. With much less name recognition, Clements said Saturday his campaign has spent just $26,000 so far. He has gotten no indication he’ll get a significant contribution from national Republican donors.

“We’re not counting on it,” Clements said. “We’re counting on grass-roots support. It’s not something we really have any control over but I think we might surprise some people.”

“You don’t get votes at a pre-primary convention with a bankroll,” Weh said. “You get it the old-fashioned way — talking to people. Money has nothing to do with this pre-primary election.”

Eventually, one candidate will win the primary in June and one will lose, and there’s some concern among statewide Republicans that bad feelings may cause a rift within the GOP.

“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen,” said Rehm. “Whoever wins this, we’ve got to get behind.”

“I don’t think it will be a bloodbath,” Larrañaga said.

****

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of each candidate talking about their differences:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Rob Nikolewski is the National Energy Corrrespondent for Watchdog.org. He is based in Santa Fe, N.M. Contact him at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @NMWatchdog.

  • Janet White

    Good job, Rob. I trust NM Watchdog so stay with this.

  • L.E. Liesner

    As a conservative Republican, I do not have a good feeling about Allen Weh. I met him one time at the Alamogordo VFW, he was running for Governor and he did not impress me or a lot of those present that day. I asked him why he, as the Chairman of the Republican Party in New Mexico, didn’t make an effort to unseat Richardson when he ran for re-election and the answer he gave me was appalling. As I recall, we all voted Susana. I don’t recall ever meeting David Clements, but look forward to doing so, he seems to be the type of Republican this country needs, we have enough of the other kind.

  • Steve Harrison

    I feel the same. I have met Allen several times. There is just something about him that doesn’t quite sit right with me. He is a reflection of Washington now. I have also met David and he seems to be an honest, humble man with integrity. I believe Clements can stir up the base and is the right man for NM.

  • Randy Lynch

    Every time that Allen Weh speaks, he alienates people while every time David Clements speaks, he unifies people. Talk to both for five minutes and it becomes abundantly clear who it is who had a heart for all New Mexicans and Americans. David is by far the better candidate and this lack of a significant lead from Weh seems reminiscent of his upset by Susanna Martinez in the gubernatorial race. I hope people are able to see and hear David and discover for themselves that he is the real deal. If that happens, he will easily defeat Weh and then move on to give Tom Udall his walking papers.

  • Betty Russell

    I agree, David Clements is the candidate that all can support regardless of party.

    We need someone we can be excited about, not someone we have to hold our nose and vote for because the alternative is worse. Allen Weh’s stance on the

    spying proves he’s not one to consider the Constitution.

  • FlameCCT

    One can clearly see that the Progressives control the Democrat party and has grown in the Republican party. If this is not confronted and removed then the Republican party will be no different than the Democrat party and we as a people will be no different than the “proletariat” of Marxist ideology.

    Perhaps Mr. Weh should consider the oath he took those many years ago and uphold the honor and integrity of the Marine Corp, the same honor and integrity that my daughter continues to uphold!

  • BILL HILBERT

    Weh may be well known, but his actions in running for the position of governor,

    leaves this voter unimpressed . No trust factor here

  • Nancy Cooper

    I feel it may be time to listen to “new candidates” in NM’s GOP. There are advantages to listening & reviewing relatively unknown GOP candidates as we have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain. In some races the “same ole people” keep running for GOP positions in NM without success. Personally several of us are eager to find out more about David Clement’s ideas for the future of NM. Many of us are open to considering David for US Senate. Hope to have David come & speak to our neighbors. I plan to talk with David this month. I respect a candidate’s honesty, open mindedness and energy to work with New Mexicans’ especially on the massive national government’s obtuse domination of our businesses and personal lifes.

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