I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Legislative upsets loom as possibility in the Obama era
Could Barack Obama have Election Day coattails long enough to reach down into the New Mexico Legislature? That’s certainly the hope of state Democrats — and the fear of at least a few Republicans.
Thanks to clever redistricting, most seats in the 112-member body have remained remarkably stable for years. But at least a few are drawing intense interest, and money, in this election cycle. Should Obama win New Mexico in key districts, Democrats could increase — marginally — their advantages in the 24-18 Senate and the 42-28 House.
The New Mexico Independent contacted a handful of people in a position to know:
Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee
Rep. Larry Larranaga, an Albuquerque Republican
Larranaga is unopposed in the general election, but Stewart has a hard-fighting candidate in Republican Howard DeLaCruz-Bancroft for control of her mid-Heights District 21. While she’s working hard right back, Larranaga and Scanland predict she’ll pull off a victory. (Besides, she got the Journal endorsement and DeLaCruz Bancroft can’t be happy about the Journal’s story on lawsuits against him.) The real races to watch, they all agree are:
House District 15
Incumbent Republican Teresa Zanetti, a business owner and former educator, has pulled out past victories in this swing district, which includes parts of the North Valley and Northeast Heights. But Democrat Bill O’Neill, director of the state’s Juvenile Parole Board, is fighting hard. He ran unsuccessfully two years ago, but hopes to make the second time the charm.
“That’s always been a competitive race,” Stewart said.
Larranaga cited this as a seat the Republicans need to hold, but neither he nor Scanland expect them to lose it.
House District 23
Republican incumbent Eric Youngberg, an attorney, has been challenged in this Corrales seat by Democrat Ben Rodefer, a small business owner who’s gotten significant support from the DLCC (along with an unfortunate headline), including a mailer that lauded him along with Obama in violation of Federal Election Commission rules.
Democrats are counting on Obama coattails here — and Larranaga says that if the district turns out for the presidential race, Youngberg could go down. But it’s no sure deal.
“There’s always a chance,” Stewart said. “But the (party registration) numbers aren’t as good there, and we have an incumbent. Open seats are easier to win.”
House District 44
Larranaga called Cour “well-known” in education circles and a “credible” candidate.
If Powdrell-Culbert, a three-time winner, loses, Republicans will likely blame Obama’s coattails. But who knows? Powdrell-Culbert, after all, is African-American, too.
House District 60
Democrat Tom Swisstack is leaving this Rio Rancho seat to serve as the City of Vision’s mayor. While he initially won it in 2002 with just seven votes, he built enough support to clinch future elections in the triple figures. That said, it’s no Democratic stronghold.
Stewart lauds Thomas as “a working-class guy,” a retired PNM lineman, and a former city councilor and county commissioner who’s “always done a lot for kids and water infrastructure.”
Larranaga said Papponi “is making a real run at that. It’s an open seat, so it’s really in play for us.”
Scanland said this is one to look at “seriously.”
House District 67
Republican Brian Moore of Clayton is vacating this northeastern New Mexico seat, making it more possible for a Democrat to pick up votes. Republican Dennis Roch is running against Democrat Craig Cosner and, while the generally conservative area would favor Roch, Obama could change that. Both Scanland and Larranaga have the race on their lists.
Roch, a former staffer for Sen. Pete Domenici, is associate superintendent of Tucumcari Public Schools. Cosner, a retired banker, has served on Eastern New Mexico University’s Board of Regents and the New Mexico Finance Authority.
Senate District 9
“His name is known, he’s an energetic, progressive guy,” Stewart said of Sapien.
Scanland isn’t betting on an upset here, but thanks to the Obama factor, won’t knock it off his list either.
Senate District 15
Democrat Tim Eichenberg, a former AMAFCA board member, has built a strong campaign against Republican incumbent H. Diane Snyder, a project manager, in this Northeast Heights district. But she’s fought back strongly.
“Tim Eichenberg is going to win,” Stewart said. “He’s been a public servant for a long time. His kids grew up there. He’s active in public schools.”
Snyder, a fiscal conservative, won the Journal endorsement, but Scanland said that might not be enough if Obama polls well in her district. He’s putting the race on his must-watch list.
“I think she’s OK,” Larranaga said of Snyder keeping her seat. “But it’s been a real hotly contested race. There’s a lot of money on both sides.”
Senate District 37
If Democrats pull an upset in this Las Cruces district, it means a hard fall for Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson, a businessman. Democrat Steve Fischmann, a retired Levi Strauss executive and former county commissioner, has a strong organization and progressive views.
“We have a real chance to pick that up,” Stewart said. “Leonard Lee Rawson hasn’t really had any opposition for years. Voters don’t know how he votes and where he stands.”
Larranaga said Rawson has to work hard to win.
“Although he’s raised quite a bit of money, it’s still closer than we would like to see,” Larranaga said.
More seats could be up for grabs, though are less likely to be, depending on how Obama does, as well as how strongly candidates finish their races. Among them:
The North Valley-Rio Rancho District 10 race between Republican incumbent John Ryan and Democrat Victor Raigoza. While cutting a generally moderate record, Ryan, a federal lobbyist, drew attention in the campaign’s waning days for a mailer put out by Republicans that highlighted the membership of Raigoza, a financial consultant, in Equality New Mexico, a gay-rights group.
Democrat and 25-year incumbent Ed Sandoval will likely hold on in Albuquerque’s District 17 against Republican Ronald Toya, but Toya, a Jemez Pueblo native and retired federal worker, has campaigned aggressively, with help from the state party.
In Las Cruces, District 37 incumbent Democrat Jeff Steinborn is running against a tough challenge from Dona Ana County Commissioner D. Kent Evans. The Las Cruces Sun-News gave Steinborn the nod, while acknowledging both were solid candidates.
Scanland’s conclusion: “I don’t suspect there’ll be many surprises on Election Night. We had plenty in the primary. There might be one or two incumbents losing their seats, but for the most part in the House, out of 70 seats, 38 are already in, and of the 32 races, only a few to watch. In the Senate, 30 are already elected, and in the other 12, there are only a few to watch.”
That’s not to say that other races haven’t featured a good amount of spirit. And as the primary-race upsets proved, anything can happen on Election Day. Both parties say it could come down to Obama.
“We’ve engaged Democrats in a way we haven’t in the last two presidential elections,” Stewart said. “The more I hear about Obama, the more I like him, and I think that’s happening with other Democrats.”
Larranaga acknowledged as much.
“Most of the time, when you get a big turnout, Republicans usually do better,” he said. “But it’s different this time. Democrats have gotten out in the early vote. It favors them.”