It’s a regular Sunday evening at the Cadigan house. The family is doing the post-weekend, pre-work week juggle. Dad, City Councilor Michael Cadigan, is looking ahead to the next day’s Council meeting. Kids, Megan, 10, and Mason, 7, are arguing loudly in the background. Michael mediates for a second and returns to another task at hand—answering this reporter’s questions about the latest ball tossed into the increasingly complex Cadigan routine—the fact that his wife, coworker and campaign manager Traci is now also a candidate.
If Traci Cadigan can successfully unseat two-term incumbent District 15 State Rep. Teresa Zanetti (R-Albuquerque) this November, the Cadigans will become the first married couple in memory to both serve in New Mexico elected public offices at the same time.
“It seems to run in the family,” Traci says. “It’s always been an interest that I’ve had from running my husband’s campaigns.”
“We’re strange people. We really enjoy campaigning,” says Michael, who’s serving his second term representing District 5.
A self-described moderate Democrat, Traci Cadigan is a numbers person, a finance graduate from the University of Arizona. She’s managed the books for Michael’s law firm, managed the treasury for his campaigns and been the executive director of the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico. But it was her recent position on the Westside schools task force on overcrowding that piqued her interested in elected office, something she never sought before.
State Republican Party spokesperson Marta Kramer says Traci’s rookie status is one reason Republicans aren’t worried about the challenge to North Valley incumbent Rep. Zanetti.
“Traci doesn’t have a record,” Kramer says. “We feel that Teresa’s a strong candidate with a record of serving her district. The Democrats continue to try to run somebody against her and they continue to fail.”
From the recent election numbers, it is no wonder why the 15th District is high on the Democratic Party’s target list. Rep. Zanetti, a Harvard-educated teacher and business owner, won the open State House seat in 2002 by a mere 226 votes. In 2004, she won by 820 votes in a race with nearly 13,000 votes cast.
Now Democrats think they have a better challenger to steal the seat. “What’s attractive [about Traci] is she has gone door-to-door. She understands campaigns. She has the skills of an incumbent,” says Democratic spokesperson Matt Farrauto.
Unlike other challengers and first-time candidates, Traci Cadigan is not starting from scratch.
Republican campaign consultant Whitney Cheshire sees the Cadigan campaign as a sort of local version of Hillary and Bill Clinton. “You are definitely going to see Michael Cadigan’s wife have the benefit of name ID in the district. City councilors get a lot more press than state representatives do,” she says.
“For most candidates who’ve never run before that is a big hurdle,” Traci says. “I do have [name] ID.”
Rep. Zanetti dismisses any notion that the name recognition will help her challenger.
“I don’t really know much about her. A lot remains to be seen,” Zanetti says.
“Most people say, ‘Who is this? We haven’t heard of her.'”
Geography is working in Zanetti’s favor. The 15th State House District is nothing like Michael’s city District 5. Where Michael’s sprawling district from near Coors and I-40 in the south to Paradise Hills in the west and the county line in the north covers the fastest-growing edges of Albuquerque, the 15th includes the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and only a handful of voters west of the Rio Grande. Zanetti says her constituents are intent on keeping their rural way of life.
Zanetti minimizes the role Michael’s popularity will play in this race, but she is quick to use his record at City Hall as a point of contrast between herself and Traci.
“It’s more important to compare me with Michael Cadigan than his wife,” says Zanetti, before ticking off their divergent views on impact fees, restaurant smoking bans and re-striping Montaño, all items Michael championed and Zanetti opposed.
But if voters look at this race as any sort of family rivalry, the Zanettis are up to the task. Her husband Greg Zanetti is a financial planner with name ID of his own from countless radio and TV appearances. He is also the former chair of the Bernalillo County Republican Party (1989-91).
Neither of the women say they want this race to be about their husbands. Traci says she is running on education reform, but she says she is also running because she feels Zanetti is out of touch with the district and she wants to better connect with voters on issues like ethics reform and drunk driving.
“She’s been in the Legislature for four years and there’s not a lot to show for it,” Traci says. Rep. Zanetti points to playground equipment, funding for sewer systems and museums as some of her past accomplishments, but she admits being a Republican in the Roundhouse makes it difficult to get any legislation out of Democrat-controlled committees.
Back in the Cadigans’ two-candidate household, the double-campaign headquarters of sorts may seem odd to onlookers. Not many other kids on the block are regularly tuned into GovTV during City Council meetings just before bedtime. But to this couple it all seems natural; their kids have been wearing campaign stickers for the last six years.
Neil H. Simon is now serving a journalism fellowship in Congress through the American Political Science Association. He covered New Mexico politics for five years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.