New GOP state party chair Steve Pearce, who lost his gubernatorial bid in 2018, has three tasks in New Mexico come 2020. The first is to win back the 2nd District which he formerly represented. The second is to hold the line on state legislative seats or to take some seats back. The third is to flip a US Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Udall whose announced retirement caught the Democrats off guard.
In 2018, Xochitl Torres Small took the Second District for the Democrats by less than 3,000 votes in an open race. Traditionally, this district leans Republican. So far, three Republicans have stepped forward- former state rep Yvette Herrell, Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys, and lobbyist and former Pearce adviser, Claire Chase. Pearce announced no endorsements in the June 2 primary. In 2018, Small defeated Herrell and Herrell has already received the endorsement of Freedom Works for America and several of her former colleagues in the state legislature.
Chase is a member of one of New Mexico’s most well-known and rich families in the energy industry. The Second lies south of Albuquerque and includes the oil and gas-rich Permian basin. Although in favor of a border wall and increased patrols, Chase also is against deporting all illegal immigrants. She said the focus of her campaign will be energy, children, and border security.
As for that open Senate race, thus far three candidates have stepped forward for the GOP. Pearce insists there are several possibilities still mulling over a run. For a state now considered blue, the GOP bench is surprisingly deep. State rep Jason Harper is a fiscal conservative who has been a force in the state house blocking some progressive measures. He would likely appeal to conservative Democrats and independent voters, but being the father of four, it appears unlikely he can be persuaded. Pearce has stated there are about ten other potential candidates.
The most interesting of the three Republican candidates is Elisa Martinez, a Latina and member of the Navajo Nation. She said she hoped to make history by becoming “the first Native American woman in the Senate.” She then clarified that with: “That is…the first real Native American woman in the Senate,” an obvious reference to Elizabeth Warren. Martinez is a high-profile anti-abortion activist in the state and formed New Mexico Alliance For Life. She has also vowed to stand against “liberal Democrat socialists” out to remake the country.
If Martinez lives up to the hype thus far, Lujan may have his coronation called into question. She appears to be an intriguing possibility that takes a couple of things off the table for Lujan (kind of hard to attack a Latina Native American woman). If she should pull an upset- and some pundits have already said her entry into the race has upended things- then Pearce has earned his pay.
For the Democrats, Ben Lujan has essentially cleared the field and will be their Senate candidate. However, this has opened a rift within the Democrat’s ranks. The party establishment closed ranks behind Lujan and fought off potential challenger Maggie Toulouse Oliver who was the preferred candidate of the more radical elements in the party. Lujan is a close ally of Nancy Pelosi and the DSCC took the unusual step of endorsing him before the primary.
As the former head of the DCCC, Lujan was known for his fundraising prowess. More importantly, he was known for defending Democrats against more progressive Democrats in primary races. That is what has irked some of the more progressive members of the Democrats in New Mexico. Still, Lujan, after announcing his candidacy, lent his support to Medicare For All and AOC’s Green New Deal.
New Mexico has become more progressive of late and as the GOP’s influence has waned, progressives have gone after more moderate Democrats. In 2018, they managed to take out a powerful Democratic legislator named Debbie Rodella who would often side with Republicans. The Worker Family Party led an insurgent campaign against her in 2018 and won. In 2020, they are targeting other Democrats deemed not progressive enough. For example, state senate leader Mary Kay Papen is one Democrat in the progressive’s crosshairs. Side story: Papen’s daughter is running for state senate in another district as a Republican. Papen endorsed the Democrat, not her daughter.
As for Trump and his reelection effort, New Mexico plays into those plans. Under Pearce, the state GOP has said they plan an endorsement of Trump over any challenger. Despite losing the governor’s race and a House seat, along with further Democrats winning down ballot, the Trump reelection team believes that New Mexico may be in play come 2020. This is part of Trump’s effort to expand the electoral map. And while most political pundits question the strategy, they also doubted Trump would win Rust Belt states in 2016. In fact, many of these pundits are the same ones making the wrong 2016 predictions.
However, campaign officials are looking at New Mexico demographics in a different light. They believe there are enough Hispanic Catholics and rural voters who feel left behind by the Democrat’s far leftward lurch in the area of LGBT rights and abortion. Further, they note that there are many Hispanics who support Trump’s border security efforts since many have family members who entered the country legally. In short, they are not viewing the New Mexico Hispanic population as some monolithic Democrat-supporting voting bloc.
There are currently about six Trump campaign staffers on the ground in New Mexico. According to Brad Parscale, it was not until this past August that Trump began to look at New Mexico more seriously as a target. He noted that Gary Johnson, who had his name on the ballot in 2016, took away many votes that would have gone to Trump. It is some of these votes Trump hopes to woo back into the GOP fold. Trump did campaign in the state in October 2016 and held a rally in Rio Rancho in 2019 that was highly attended. When he appeared in El Paso, Texas, there were several women and Hispanics in attendance who made the trek from New Mexico.
Money for the Trump campaign is not a problem and just putting the state in the crosshairs helps draw Democrat resources into the state. The GOP also believes it has a greater political campaign infrastructure in place.