Monday, September 23, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: Election Called in NM. Go Back to Sleep

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 22, 2013

I know it’s more than 13 months away, and there hasn’t really been any serious polling here yet, but national pundits already have called the 2014 election in New Mexico.

The Roll Call/Rothenberg Governors Map
They’re calling it a dud.

The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call, which features a hand-dandy, color-coded map on its website, rates all the 2014 races for U.S. Senate and House as well as governor contests around the country.

In the Senate contest, New Mexico is a dark blue, meaning incumbent Democrat Tom Udall is considered safe. In the House races, all three incumbents — Democrats Ben Ray Luján of Santa Fe, Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque and Republican Steve Pearce of Hobbs — are considered safe by Rothenberg and Roll Call.

And in the governors category, New Mexico is a darkish pink, meaning incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is considered “favored” to win. That’s not quite as good as being “safe,” but it’s better than “Leans” Republican and far better than “Tilts” Republican.

This isn’t the only such prognostication. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the website of the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, rates Udall, Luján and Lujan Grisham as safe bets for re-election and Martinez as a “likely” winner. The chief difference here is that Sabato’s Crystal Ball is telling him that down in the 2nd Congressional District, Pearce is not “safe” but merely “likely” to win re-election.

So if you’re an anti-establishment voter who thinks the best way to keep the government healthy is to routinely “throw the bums out,” this growing consensus on the 2014 election in New Mexico is not a good thing. No sign of an anti-incumbent surge has been spotted.

And if you’re a political junkie who savored the nail-biting, hair-yanking days of yore — like 2000, when Al Gore won New Mexico by less than 300 votes, or 2006, when it took weeks to get all the ballots counted to determine that Heather Wilson beat Patricia Madrid by 800 votes or so for the 1st Congressional District seat — this is really bad news.

But remember, a lot can happen between now and Election Day. After all, we’re 13 months away from the election.

But if something is going to make the upcoming election anything but predictable, it better happen soon. After all, it’s only 13 months until the election.

So what are the New Mexico races to get excited about? Well, there’s always the Legislature. Some believe that Republicans might have a shot at taking the state House, though others say that ship already sailed. Currently, there are 37 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the House with one vacancy (the seat that was held by the late Rep. Stephen Easley, a Democrat).

Assuming the governor appoints a fellow Republican, that would bring the GOP up to 33. (And Martinez might surprise us. Remember, she appointed independent — later turned Democrat — Doug Howe to a vacant Public Regulation Commission seat a couple of years ago.)

Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard
Easley’s District 50 likely will be competitive next year, whoever gets appointed. Another is the Los Alamos-based District 43, represented by freshman Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard. She won a close race against incumbent Republican Jim Hall last year.

During this year’s legislative session, Garcia Richard — who had campaigned saying she would vote for Martinez’s perennial bill to stop issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented residents — voted against a procedural move that would have forced a floor vote on the bill. Republicans immediately paid for robo-calls denouncing her for “flip-flopping.”

I don’t know yet who the GOP is going to run in that district, but expect this issue to rise again.

And then there’s the secretary of state’s race. Even some Republicans have told me that Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Oliver, a Democrat, will be a tough candidate to beat. But incumbent Dianna Duran, the first GOP secretary of state in decades, will fight hard to keep that job. This contest is one to watch.

UPDATE: 12:30 pm Pardon my fuzzy math. I had the wrong total for the number of Republicans in the House if the governor appoints a Republican to fill Rep. Easley's seat. The correct number would be 33. It's been corrected in the text.

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