After months of scathing partisan attacks in the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history, spirits were low at the New Mexico GOP party. It wasn’t looking good for Republicans. Clusters of well-dressed women huddled around the Albuquerque Marriott ballroom on election night, scanning smartphone screens and offering each other reassuring hugs as the vote tallies filtered in. An older man with a long gray beard dressed up as Uncle Sam watched silently as one of several massive screens with Fox News returns displayed Democratic victory numbers in key races. His homemade sign (“Obama—Out!”) leaned against the back of his chair.
Big-ticket candidates—Heather Wilson for Senate and Janice Arnold-Jones in Congressional District 1—were conspicuously absent the majority of the evening. They were holed up in their rooms, said a business-suited man sipping a drink next to the bar, his eyes locked on the nearest TV screen. He speculated that they probably wanted to avoid reporters and stay in close contact with reports from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Neal Smith, a software engineer, was nursing a beer at a banquet table with his childhood friend John Geissler, who works in insurance. Both men said this was the first election in years that they’d paid any real attention to, and they weren’t happy at the prospect of an Obama victory.
“My key issues in the presidential race are the whole economy and deficit, and getting the books in order for the country,” Smith said.
“What about the redistribution?” Geissler interjected. Smith nodded.
“I’m really capitalist, and it seems like Obama’s taking us toward the socialism route, and I’m really against that.” Smith considered voting for the Libertarian candidate, ex-N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson, until Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the first presidential debate. “He did impress me, and that kind of swayed me into thinking that this guy’s not so bad. He’s definitely better than Obama.”
“I’m really capitalist, and it seems like Obama’s taking us toward the socialism route, and I’m really against that.”
Geissler cut in from across the table. “What about on Benghazi and toughness?”
“That’s a good point,” said Smith. “I’m always talking about that. I can forgive the whole thing, because it maybe could have happened on anyone’s watch, but—” He shook his head as his friend, growing more animated, jumped in again.
“What about the whole wimpiness of it? To apologize like a namby-pamby liberal—”
“You’re horning in on my interview here,” laughed Smith. “I think Obama could have spun it to his advantage, but he instead went the other way.”
State Sen. John Ryan from a Westside Albuquerque district appeared relaxed and in good spirits. His victory seemed assured against a former senator, Joe Carraro. Ryan said the special interest money and expensive attack ads hadn’t bothered him. “I don’t think money’s a bad thing in elections,” said Ryan. “I think it actually helps candidates communicate." Constituents take in information in a variety of ways, he added: TV, radio, mailers. "I’m OK with having a lot of money come into to our state to communicate positions and issues. I think it educates the voters a lot better.”
Across the room, Monica Youngblood, a newcomer to the Legislature and realtor from the Westside, seemed happily jittery as she responded to texts on her phone. By that point in the evening, her race had been decided handily in her favor.
When it came to local issues, Youngblood said she’d been frustrated that final say on the Paseo del Norte and I-25 renovation project had been remanded to voters by the Albuquerque City Council. Lawmakers who weren’t from the Westside didn’t realize what hassle her constituents had to deal with every day during their commute. And as far as statewide priorities, Youngblood was looking forward to repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
The issue is bipartisan, she insisted, and so is education reform. “We need to find out what’s wrong with our educational system, and I think the governor is making an effort,” said Youngblood. “And it has to do with whether we’re going to continue passing third-graders that can’t read onto fourth grade. That’s just something that shouldn’t be happening right now.”
Youngblood spoke passionately about reaching out to Democratic lawmakers. “Being a Hispanic woman, being raised in the poorest part of the city, I hope that I’m able to talk to my fellow legislators who are Democrats, who have not really seen what a poor, Hispanic face is,” she said. “I hope that I can open their eyes to that.” Youngblood said people where she grew up don’t have adequate chances to succeed. That, she added, is what she’d like to help other state lawmakers understand.
Paul Pacheco still awaited word on the outcome of his candidacy. The former police officer was locked in a razor tight and hotly contested race for the District 23 seat in the state’s House of Representatives. (He would go on to win it by just 55 votes.) He’d been circling the room anxiously all evening, getting supportive pats on the back from fellow candidates. He paused to answer interview questions as his wife quietly delivered the national news that had just flashed across the screens in each corner of the ballroom.
“It’s over,” she said gravely. “He just won Ohio. It’s done.” She turned and left the room.
President Barack Obama had secured another term. The volume in the already subdued ballroom dipped further. People seated at round banquet tables sagged.
“I’m sorry,” said Pacheco, excusing himself. “My wife’s not feeling well, and I’ve got to get her home.”
A retired federal law enforcement official said he preferred to provide only his first name, Bob. He expressed bewilderment at how the night had ended. He guessed that the final tally of nationwide votes would show a clear divide between Democratic-leaning urban areas and more conservative rural counties. “You have an influx of people into the cities that are dependent on government, and people who are not dependent on government leave the cities,” Bob said. “And what’s happening now? Cities are going bankrupt.”
Bob pointed to the acres of abandoned buildings in Detroit, to cash-strapped municipalities in New England and California. “This is catastrophe on a small scale,” he said. “Just wait until it hits the rest of the country on a large scale. And people think that government is going to fix things. Well, it’s got to be people themselves who fix it.”
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez worked his way through the thinning crowd, shaking the hands of several despondent middle-aged men and women whose faces registered shock and disbelief. “Clearly, we’re disappointed that Romney was not chosen,” he said, nodding stiffly. “I think this will be a wake-up call for Republicans—not only in New Mexico but throughout the country—about how we can reach out to a larger group of the electorate. We’re going to have to really broaden our base, and we’re going to have to take a good look inside ourselves and make some changes.”
Otherwise, he added, “it’s going to be very tough for us in the future.”