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C’mon candidates: Try taking the high road

September 28, 2018

Politics may be dirty, but in New Mexico — until now — we have seen few personal attacks on the terminally ill.

But that barrier has fallen in the 2018 campaign for governor. Here’s what happened.

First, GOP candidate for governor Steve Pearce ran an ad criticizing his opponent’s business dealings. Then his Democratic opponent, Michelle Lujan Grisham, responded with a commercial featuring a critically ill man describing the good her company did in helping him obtain insurance. So far, slightly messy but nothing too far out of bounds.

After all, Lujan Grisham’s former company, Delta Consulting, already had been a target of opponents starting in the Democratic Party. Business work is fair game. Opponents wanted to persuade voters that there is something suspect in how Lujan Grisham’s company won its contract to run the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, established by the state Legislature to help high-risk patients access health insurance.

In response, Lujan Grisham’s campaign put together a television commercial in which cancer patient Diego Zamora of Santa Fe thanks her. A noticeably gaunt Zamora speaks of his illness, saying, “When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I called Michelle for help.”

“Her company ran the state’s high-risk insurance pool for critically ill patients like me. She got me health coverage and saved my family from bankruptcy,” he said. “For me, Michelle’s a godsend.”

This is a powerful statement, so naturally the Pearce campaign felt it needed to respond. It is a response, however, unworthy of Pearce, a member of Congress from Southern New Mexico known for his folksy manner and quick wit. The commercial goes after Zamora directly for having worked for disgraced former state Sen. Phil Griego, a Democrat: “If he’s defending Grisham, she’s corrupt beyond doubt.”

Surely, Pearce can make the case that he is the best person to run the state of New Mexico without disturbing the peace of a man facing his own mortality. Attacking the other candidate is a well-known campaign strategy to raise the negatives of an opponent. Such tactics depress voter turnout and enthusiasm on the other side, so as to eke out a victory, especially from behind. They’re nothing new in politics, no matter the party.

Still, New Mexico deserves better than campaign commercials that vilify a person with terminal cancer. Steve Pearce should apologize for this ad and get back to making his case, using his record, his positions on the issues and his life experience. Voters will be grateful.

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