Presidential politics were likely not on the minds of New Mexico voters during the primaries on Tuesday. There was no question as to whether Mitt Romney and President Obama would be the major party candidates on the ballot in November. But the general election cycle has begun. At this point, the outlook for the typically competitive and evenly divided state appears surprisingly one-sided.
In recent presidential election cycles, New Mexico received significant attention from candidates vying for the White House. The state’s demographic mix of staunchly conservative Southern New Mexico, liberal Democratic Northern New Mexico, and politically fickle Albuquerque has traditionally made the state into a battleground. In a close election year, New Mexico’s five electoral votes have held strategic importance.
In 2000, Al Gore defeated George W. Bush in New Mexico by a mere 366 votes. Bush flipped the state to the Republican side in 2004, winning by 6,000 votes. The key to Bush’s 2004 victory was his ability to win more than 40 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote. Both elections were won by less than one percentage point.
Those narrow contests made the state a major target for both Obama and John McCain in 2008. Both candidates spent millions of dollars on advertising and made multiple campaign stops in New Mexico. Nevertheless, the contest was not close in 2008. Obama dominated, winning a sizable 15 percent margin of victory. In doing so, he helped sweep in Democratic congressional candidates Tom Udall, Ben Ray Lujan, Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague.
Democrats are hoping that President Obama will repeat his dominant performance in New Mexico this election cycle. Polls so far show the president leading by a significant margin. Consistent high polling for Obama in the winter led Public Policy Polling to write in April, “New Mexico is not going to be a swing state this year.”
Obama is polling remarkably well among key constituencies in the state. He is up 61-35 among women, 67-30 among Hispanics, and 56-35 among young voters. Over the last decade, New Mexico’s electorate has become more favorable for Democratic candidates. The heavily Democratic Hispanic voter population has increased and Albuquerque has leaned more toward Democrats.
Democrats Martin Heinrich and Michelle Lujan Grisham would certainly like help from Obama supporters in November. A high-turnout victory for Obama might help put them over the top in close contests for the open Senate and Congressional seats. Democrats hoping to gain significant ground in the state Legislature also need an Obama wave.
Does Mitt Romney stand a chance of turning New Mexico red in November? Susana Martinez proved just two years ago that the state can still support Republicans in statewide elections. She remains popular with New Mexicans, showing a 54 percent approval rating in April. Her high approval rating, however, does not seem to be translating into support for Romney.
Romney must win over the more of the state’s Hispanic voters if he wants any chance of competing. With his hard-line immigration stance, Romney will likely find this to be an uphill battle. This week, Romney began courting Hispanic voters by releasing an ad citing rising unemployment and poverty for Hispanics under Obama. Yesterday, he appointed Gov. Martinez to a Hispanic leadership team in his campaign.
Yet the forecast still looks favorable for Obama in the Land of Enchantment. The race will likely tighten as November nears. But compared to previous cycles, it does not seem like the presidential campaign will reach a fever pitch in New Mexico. If the race continues to trend clearly toward Obama, both candidates may shift their focus elsewhere. The candidates’ relative lack of attention to the state compared to previous cycles could lower voter turnout and dampen enthusiasm for important and closer contests for the Senate, House and State Legislature.
Susana Martinez, una loba con piel de cordero, a wolf in sheep’s clothing
Something's very creepy about next month’s race for governor. There’s also something scary about the Susana Martinez message; her campaign speeches sound like tea party noise. And something is wrong with her sudden rise to power. Why is Martinez the nominee? Republicans have no substantive platform to offer the majority of New Mexicans. Therefore, their desperate strategy was to import a Hispanic from El Paso, Texas, hoping New Mexicans will base their vote on skin color more than policy issues. The scary thing is that this primitive strategy may work.
In her campaign rhetoric, Martinez will avoid specifics and just throw out glittering generalities like “government is corrupt.” This is true. Governments are corrupt not only in New Mexico but across the nation, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Moreover, they’ve been corrupt for generations. This does nothing to address the pressing issues facing us like unemployment, poverty, the education crisis, environmental decay & economic instability
It is disturbing to see polls showing Hispanics favoring Martinez. It must be because of her last name, because it’s common knowledge that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, especially among Hispanics. Are Hispanics falling for her empty promises of “bold change?" Hope not, because their livelihoods have never been of much concern to Republican leadership at either state or national levels. Everyone knows that Republican policies favor the wealthy, while Democrats are supposed to help the poor.
New Mexico is a poor state. I am a young Hispanic woman, who shares the same last name with Martinez. However, that is where the similarities end. My family has lived in New Mexico for generations. They reside in our poorest counties (Rio Arriba and San Miguel). The majority are civil servants, ranchers and laborers, or they work for small businesses. Policies favored by Republicans punish the typical Hispanic/working poor. Therefore I can’t understand why a working class or middle class Hispanic would vote for the Republican candidate and against their interest. When Susana says that it’s not the government’s responsibility to create jobs, she needs to go talk to N.M. residents who depend on state jobs. I’m especially irked that these people, mi gente, are so willing to cast a vote for her when she’s so willing to accept a paycheck from the state at their expense.
Susana is willing to take your vote, but she won’t enact policies that benefit you or communities in any significant way. Her ideas on education are ill-informed. Her ignorant statements regarding border security demonstrate a lack of understanding concerning state vs. federal jurisdiction. We need a governor who seeks to provide us with the best education and gives us good job opportunities in both the public and private sectors. Susana is not this person.
My mother would warn us around election time to be wary of politicians who use their ethnicity to win favor among a group when their policies actually harm the very people who brought them into office. She called them “lobos con piel de cordero,” or "wolves in sheep’s clothing."
In the summer of 2006, New Mexico economist Gerry Bradley and his colleagues were baffled by housing construction data. “Too many houses were being built. We’d never seen anything like it," he says. “It looked like something that wasn’t going to continue.”