In past elections New Mexico has always been considered a swing state. However this year, since President Obama swept the state in 2008 and has held an almost double-digit lead over Governor Romney, this presidential election the state is colored blue. Since the focus is off of the executive office one would think New Mexicans would turn their attention to the major House and Senate races. However, this is not the case. The race that held the most promise to be a competitive fight is for Jeff Bingaman’s open Senate seat between Martin Heinrich and Heather Wilson. One would think that pitting two prominent political figures against each other would leave voters to decide a razor thin race however, Heinrich has kept a double- digit lead over Wilson since the spring. So that brings me to the question, what races are New Mexicans focusing on this election season?
This year New Mexicans are turning their attention to the state legislative races. This is interesting because usually these do not receive more than a quick once over at the polls. The difference this year lies within the increased funding from independent groups such as Super PACs. With the new regulations resulting from the Citizens United case the groups can donate an unlimited amount to a party as long as they refrain from coordinating with candidates. Super PACs pumped almost $3 million into the state races allowing local candidates to gain television exposure and attacks the opposing party. Brian Sanderoff, Albuquerque pollster, told the Albuquerque Journal, “It’s not that the negative message are more nasty; it’s just that there are more of them. This is clearly a year where voters are being saturated with negativity.” According to the Journal, Reform New Mexico Now has spent approximately $1.8 million bashing mainly Democratic candidates who are a roadblock to the Martinez agenda.
This brings me to the main reason the state legislative races have stolen the limelight. Governor Martinez is taking an active role in campaigning. During her two years in office she hasn’t been able to get her priorities through the legislation, which is controlled by the Democrats. Martinez is featured in ads attacking Democratic leaders that she wants replaced such as President-Pro tem Tim Jennings and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. She has been featured in negative ads between the two in an attempt to show the public what will happen if they are reelected. Although, Martinez wants to oust these two leaders her main focus is on gaining control of the House. The House currently consists of 36 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent. Her goal is contingent on a republican win in House District 43, in Santa Fe. This race is important because Governor Martinez appointed Republican Jim Hall to the seat when Rep. Jeannette Wallace passed away last year. The contender, Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard is a big threat to Hall because she almost clinched the seat against Wallace two year ago, losing by only 200 votes. Santa Fe is notorious for voting Democrat and leaning towards the left. If Richard can capitalize on that she will win the seat and put the hopes of a Republican House majority in jeopardy.
The focus on the state legislative races is interesting because in a state that is usually concentrated on the national races, the infiltration of money and involvement of the Governor has shifted attention to almost solely the state level. With the state no longer considered a swing state, New Mexican politics may be shifting towards a new norm, less focus on the national races and more focus on what is happening locally.