Political strategist David Contarino speaks with the staff at Interviewing Experts regarding the astonishing win by underdog Michelle Lujan Grisham in the 2012 Democratic primary for Congress. Grisham went on to defeat Republican Janice Arnold-Jones in the general election.
Interviewing Experts: Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us exactly what role you played in this campaign?
David Contarino: I served now Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham as a consultant and senior advisor.
Interviewing Experts: You have been noted as saying that your work was easy once people understood who Michelle Grisham was.
David Contarino: Absolutely, yes. Congresswoman Grisham was an outstanding candidate. She was disciplined and courageous and demonstrated a commitment to the voters of the district that could not be matched by her opponents.
Interviewing Experts: And the congresswoman had some great supporters…
David Contarino: She had many key allies. Notably Emily’s list – a political group dedicated to helping pro-choice Democratic women win House and Senate seats. The organization also works for Democratic women entering gubernatorial races.
Interviewing Experts: Congresswoman Grisham relied on a lot of newspaper articles in the final leg of the campaign – why?
David Contarino: We used specific documents and public news articles to outline specific deficiencies in the opposition.
Interviewing Experts: And this this worked?
David Contarino: Voters responded so, yes. Virtually all undecided voters broke heavily toward Lujan Grisham in the final days and she went resounding victory by five percentage points.
Interviewing Experts: Toward the end of the campaign, one of the opponents launched a pretty tough attack against Congresswoman Grisham. Can you tell us why she never publicly responded?
David Contarino: She was tempted to respond, certainly. However, the Lujan Grisham campaign stuck with the strategy of believing that its own positive advertising and endorsements would blunt the dubious charges.
Interviewing Experts: That seems like a dangerous strategy as much as the media likes controversy.
David Contarino: The congresswoman had enough well respected third-party endorsements that it should have been obvious that any negative attacks were just feeble attempts to discredit the former State Health Department secretary.
Interviewing Experts: What are some of Grisham’s key priorities?
David Contarino: Lujan Grisham has always been a strong advocate for the people. She is additionally passionate in her defense of women’s health choices.
Interviewing Experts: Going back to those final weeks of the campaign – it seems that Grisham was more visible than her previously higher-profile rivals…
David Contarino: We chose to conserve funds early in the campaign, which meant we would have reserves for later.
Interviewing Experts: Grisham entered the contest late, correct?
David Contarino: I like to think that her opponents just got a head start.
Interviewing Experts: You were her senior advisor – who else was prolific throughout the campaign?
David Contarino: First and foremost, the volunteers; without them, their support, and unrivaled dedication to the cause we could have never done it. I worked closely with Dominic Gabello (campaign manager) and key staffers Debbie Armstrong and Gilbert Gallagos.
Interviewing Experts: It’s pretty amazing that Grisham went on to win the general election after finishing third in the state convention.
David Contarino: It is definitely a rags to riches story, so to speak. We elected to spend very little early on, including at the convention. We decided that television advertising in the final weeks would be more effective.
Interviewing Experts: It seems you were correct…
David Contarino: Thank you.
Interviewing Experts: Before we close, we’d like to talk a bit about yourself and Congresswoman Grisham.
David Contarino: I’ve been in politics for as long as I can remember – more than 25 years, actually. I have served as a media consultant, campaign manager, and advisor. I have held responsibility in numerous successful campaigns.
Interviewing Experts: And you worked for a while under a very well known governor?
David Contarino: I was Chief of Staff for Bill Richardson – the former governor of New Mexico.
Interviewing Experts: This is assumably how you met Grisham – can you give us a quick background on her?
David Contarino: Grisham has a long family history and politics with an uncle, a cousin, and her grandfather all having been involved in New Mexico government.
Interviewing Experts: Thank you for your time today – we look forward to seeing you in the future.
David Contarino: I certainly appreciate the opportunity.
About David Contarino: David Contarino is an experience political strategist who has served under Bill Richardson and Jeff Bingaman, notably. His work with Democratic groups across the country have helped place candidates like Michelle Grisham. David Contarino is the president of Louisville, Kentucky’s Contarino & Associates.