With no Senate seat up for grabs this year, it is the 2008 Senate race that figures into New Mexico races this year. But first, a look at the Governor’s race.
Assuming Bill Richardson had made it to the Obama cabinet, Lt. Governor Diane Denish would be Governor today boning up on her gubernatorial credentials in a run-up to this year’s election. But a strange thing happened along the way. Richardson remained in New Mexico to finish his limited term as Governor as a “pay to play” scandal threatened his cabinet nomination and in order to avoid the embarrassment to Obama, he withdrew his name from consideration. Regardless, Denish is the choice of the Democratic Party while the Republicans nominated the District Attorney from Dona Ana County, Susanna Martinez. Intitially, Denish polled ten points higher than Martinez in hypothetical races. However, that all changed after the June 1st primary. Since June 3rd, Martinez captured the lead over Denish and has not looked back and currently leads by 10 points in the polls. On average, however, the lead is 5 points, indicating momentum for Martinez entering the home stretch. Additionally, she has pierced the coveted 50% threshold. Despite this, one major prognosticator is calling the race for Denish, four have it as a toss-up, and three give it to Martinez. Should Martinez prevail, i believe it may be closer than the current 10 point lead in the polls she currently enjoys. And this race represents a clear choice for the voters of New Mexico between the Richardson/Denish liberal policies and the unabashed conservatism of Martinez (yes, Howard Dean, conservative females exist). Surprisingly, unlike their neighbors in Arizona and Texas, immigration does not play as heavy a role in politics in New Mexico. And leaving nothing to chance, Martinez has recently received the support of rising Republican star, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
In the Congressional races, all three districts are currently held by Democrats. In the 1st district, Martin Heinrich was the first Democrat to represent this area which was established in 1969. It is the smallest Congressional district in the state and includes the Albuquerque area. He is opposed by Republican John Barella, a former official in the state GOP and leader of the Hispanic business leaders in Albuquerque (yes, Howard Dean, there are Hispanic Republicans). Thus far, the race is rated a toss up, although heinrich had a 7 point lead in the most recent poll and on average leads by 8 points. This district could very well be a test of Republican strength this fall.
The best chance for a Republican pick up in New Mexico occurs in the conservative southern part of the state, the 2nd Congressional District. It is also where the 2008 Senate race plays into New Mexico politics this year. The area is represented by Harry Teague who faces a tough battle. In 2008, the incumbent Republican, Steve Pearce, resigned the seat leaving the district open, in order to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Pete Domenici. Although winning the nomination, he eventually lost the Senate race to Democrat Tom Udall and the Second District went to Teague.
However, Pearce is ow vying for his old House seat. There are four reasons for Republican optimism here. First, it is the most conservative district in the state which had, before Teague, been in Republican hands since 1981. Second, Pearce has the name recognition in the district without having any recorded votes on the Obama agenda, unlike Teague. In fact, Teague voted for the unpopular cap-and-trade legislation in an energy-producing state. That fact alone should play against him. Third, if fund raising is any indication, Pearce and Teague are basically tied whereas if you look at other races involving Democratic incumbents fighting for their seats, they hold fund raising advantages of at least three to one. Fourth, and most importantly, most experts have concluded that Teague was swept into office on Obama’s coat tails. There are no Presidential coat tails this year unless one considers Obama’s agenda coat tails in which case they are quite tattered. Overall, the average of all polling indicates an absolute tie although Teague had a three point lead in the most recent poll.
In the northern Third District, incumbent Democrat ben Lujan is a safe Democratic retention running against Tom Mullins. It is also the district with the highest concentration of New Mexico’s Hispanic community. That can only help Lujan further.
In conclusion, a Republican Governor and at least a one seat pick up in the House for the Republicans will give pundits and the Democratic Party pause in New Mexico. Mainly because of the two terms of Richardson and the fact that both Senators and all three Representatives are Democrat, many have placed New Mexico firmly in the blue state status. In fact, that designation may have been premature. Although not truly red, at the very least, New Mexico may just have to be considered purple after this year’s elections making 2012 an interesting year in New Mexico politics.