Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Democrats Flex Muscle: Top Ticket Sweep; Obama Wins; Heinrich Is Senator-elect, It's Grisham In A Rout; Mixed Night For Guv; She Gets Jennings, But Not Sanchez; Dems Add State House Strength; R's Get A Senate Bump; A Grind It Out Kind Of Night 

Senator-elect Heinrich (Daily Lobo)
Democrats muscled aside Republicans Tuesday night to assert their dominance in the state's congressional delegation and hold back a determined Governor from changing the narrative at the state capitol. (Bernalillo County results here. Statewide results here.)

The exit polls called the New Mexico presidential race for Obama early in the evening. He was carrying the state 52% to Romney's 42%. Former NM Guv and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson managed only 3%.

Martin Heinrich rolled over Heather Wilson--51 to 45 and 4 for independent Jon Barrie--in a US Senate race that her pollster claimed at the end was tied, but was never really close.

Michelle Lujan Grisham flirted with the 60% mark in routing Janice Arnold-Jones to take the ABQ congressional seat, while Dems dashed the takeover dreams of the R's and appeared poised to pick up at least a couple of state House seats, although it could be days before the dust settled on all of them.

Grisham led the ticket in Bernalillo County, outscoring both Obama and Romney.


It was a decidedly mixed night for Governor Martinez who unleashed her political consultant Jay McCleskey to spend several million dollars in super PAC cash in an effort to change the state Legislature to her liking. And the Dems responded with a couple of million of their own. But she missed taking the big prize--the ouster of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez--and had to settle for a win in Roswell where she narrowly took out conservative Dem State Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings. His district is heavy R.

Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia of Las Cruces, 75, also fell Tuesday night. The Reform NM Now PAC mailed against her, but her wounds were mainly self-inflicted. She was caught in a campaign ethics web just days before the election.

The irony for Martinez is that by taking out Jennings she may have dissolved the Senate coalition that he led and that made possible her getting a budget through the Legislature. The Senate could actually get more liberal with Jennings gone.

Jennings, Garcia and Lisa Curtis, who was appointed to a heavy GOP ABQ NE Heights Senate seat vacancy all went down, but the balance of power in the 42 member body doesn't budge. As we write Dems still control it 25-17.


When we left the air at KANW-FM around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the state House was 36 Dem and 34 R, but five races were unresolved. It appeared Dems were positioned to take at least two of them and that would give the 70 member chamber a cast of at least 38 Dems to 32 R's. That small pick-up would secure the the election of State Rep. Ken Martinez of Grants as House speaker.

Among the incumbent victims was Dona Ana County Democrat turned independent Andy Nunez who befriended the Governor only to have her scorn him. He fell to Dem Felipe Archuleta in a three way battle. In ABQ, the Dems--with Elizabeth Thomson carrying their banner-- claimed the ABQ NE Heights seat of freshman GOP State Rep. Conrad James. Another victim appeared to be appointed GOP State Rep. Jim Hall in the Los Alamos area, Stephanie Garcia Richard says she win by over two hundred votes but we await confirmation.

Andrew Barrreras, absolutely hammered by the Guv's team with nearly 30 mailers said to have been sent against him, lagged Republican Kelly Fajardo by about 90 votes.  Marci Blaze had a slim lead over Republican Paul Pacheco on the ABQ metro's west side and a couple Las Cruces races were still up in the air.


We thought one of the more meaningful wins for the R's was when they ejected Dem State Rep. Ray Begaye. He shot himself in the foot with ethics mishaps and his Four Corners/Navajo reservation seat was taken from him by a Navajo woman--Sharon Clahchischillage. A Navajo Republican in the state House?

It is with Hispanics and Native Americans that the GOP has underperformed. Their loss of Conrad James--the first African-American Republican elected to the state House from Bernalillo County--hurt the R's, but Sharon's win in Navajo Country will speed the healing.


The continued drift of the state's largest city to the blue column was symbolized by the landslide for a dollar increasing the minimum wage. It passed with over 65% of the vote, despite the opposition of a large segment of the business community and ABQ GOP Mayor RJ Berry.

Republican Bob Cornelius noted that a Republican Mayor and GOP controlled city council now preside in a deep blue city. Dems have to do a  better job of uniting behind candidates if they are to take some of that control back in next year's city election. The $50 million bond issue for the Paseo Del Norte/I-25 interchange passed handily. (All the state and Bernalillo County bond issues won voter approval.)


The Guv's political team took a whipping in her home county of Dona Ana when Dem Mark D'Antonio upset Republican District Attorney Amy Orlando who Governor Martinez appointed to the post when she became Governor and who had worked under her as her chief deputy. Three judges Susana appointed in the county also went down to defeat last night.

Same in Benralillo County. Three judges Martinez had appointed to the district court were all stopped in their election bids, including Sam Winder who was taken out by Dem Ben Chavez.


Because some of the state House races were so close and R's had a chance to take over the chamber, there is already criticism of Martinez and Jay for spending so much money on the Sanchez and Jennings Senate races and also on that Dona Ana DA's race and the judgeships. If that money had been redirected to the House battle could some of the seats been pushed into the R column?


The night was interesting, but lacked the drama of more recent elections, opined attorney David Bucholz on KANW. We agreed. We grinded out the nitty-gritty of state House races to determine who would control the chamber, but that doesn't have the same flair as close races do at the top of the ballot. And the results both nationally and in the state seem to indicate more gridlock. No election is not exciting, but this one seemed rather flat. The huge expenditure of money from the Super PACS polluting the legislative contest also left Bucholz--and we think the public at large--relieved that Campaign '12 was finally skidding to a close.


Why stop blogging now? Here's a whole other version that we compiled with veteran R consultant and pollster Bruce Donisthorpe who broke the news on KANW that Senator Jennings had lost in Roswell. He did it before 10 p.m. and was the first in the state with that big legislative story and many others. First the political autopsy on Jennings' loss:

New Mexico’s legislative races Tuesday night were often tied to the results at the top of the ticket. Strong Dem performances at the top led to major pickups for the Dems in Bernalillo and Dona Ana counties, while a strong GOP performance at the top of the ticket doomed the efforts of State Senator Tim Jennings in Roswell.

As the dust settled as we went to press, the Republicans had a net gain of 3 seats in the State Senate – the same number of seats they lost in the 2008 election 4 years ago. In the State House, Dems were poised to pick up a net gain of 2 seats for a 38-32 chamber majority.

One wonders if the Republicans might have done a little better in some of the House races if the Governor had spent more money in State House races.

Cliff Pirtle, the 27 year old farmer who beat Jennings by about 500 votes, definitely benefitted from the fact that Romney, GOP US Senate candidate Heather Wilson and southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce each won Chaves County by over 7,500 votes. That triumph enabled Pirtle to squeak out a 650 victory over Jennings. Pirtle added a 180 vote win in Eddy County, while Jennings cut Pirtle’s margin by winning by 300 on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in Otero County.  The loss of Jennings means Senators will elect a new President Pro-Tem in January.


In Valencia County, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez withstood a tough barrage of GOP-led attacks by scoring a 1,500 vote victory over GOP challenger David Chavez. Sanchez’s victory shows he is now “King of the Hill” in the State Senate--having defeated all comers--and all legislative roads on every bill for the next four years go through his desk. 

In Bernalillo County, President Obama’s 16-point win over Mitt Romney led to a 43-thousand vote win. That huge margin enabled Dem candidates Emily Kane (House District 15, North Valley) to hold an important seat for the Democrats, while Elizabeth Thompson (House District 24, NE Heights) toppled incumbent GOP State Rep. Conrad James and picking up the seat for the Dens.

Other Dems who scored big wins include: State Senator-Elect Daniel Ivey Soto (Senate District 15, NE Heights), who won 53%-47% over former State Sen. Diane Snyder who lost the seat in 2008; and State Sen. Tim Keller (Senate District 17, SE Heights) who beat back a spirited challenge from former Democrat State Senator turned Republican Shannon Robinson. 

Republican state lawmakers held their own in territory not so dominated by Obama, including Republican State Senator John Ryan (Senate District 10, West Side) who beat former State Senator and Independent candidate Joe Carraro by 55%-45%; State Rep. Nate Gentry (House District 30, NE Heights) who defeated Mary Ellen Broderick by 8 points.

A pair of GOP newcomers were elected to the State Senate as Lisa Torraco (Senate District 18, NE Heights) held the seat vacated by former Republican State Senator Mark Boitano, and Mark Moores was elected to the seat held for a year by attorney Lisa Curtis (State Senate District 21, NE Heights) who was appointed to the seat when Kent Cravens left the Senate in 2011.

Democrats re-gained the vacated Bernalillo County Commission seat left by US Representative-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham as City Councillor Debbie O’Malley defeated Republican Simon Kubiak by an impressive 61%-39% margin.


Democrats used Obama’s strong performance at the other end of the Rio Grande in Dona Ana County, where the Prez defeated Romney by 15 points and scored a 10-thousand vote win. In the US Senate race Dem Heinrich defeated Wilson there by 18 points and won by 12-thousand votes.

The Obama-Heinrich double tsunami took out Republican State Rep. Rick Little, who defeated former State Rep. Nate Cote (House District 53) in 2010. And, at press time, Dem challenger Joanne Ferrary had a 12 vote lead over GOP State Rep. Terry McMillan (House District 37).  Ballots are still being counted by hand and this race could go to a recount, but could be an important pick-up for the Democrats in the State House.

Perhaps the biggest dividend for Dems in Dona Ana County could well be the defeat of the Governor’s hand-picked slate of District Judges as the Martinez appointees (Susan Riedel, Nelson Goode and Jacinto Palamino) went down to defeat by a troika of Dem candidates led by Marci Beyer, Darren Kugler and Mary Rosner.

And no doubt the icing on the cake for the local Democrats was the defeat of the Governor’s hand-picked and former long-time assistant Amy Orlando as she lost the District Attorney race to Mark D’Antonio a former federal prosecutor and law enforcement candidate.  Martinez also lost her three judges in Albuquerque making it a bad nite for her appointees to the bench in this cycle.

The one bright spot in an otherwise bleak and dark wilderness in Dona Ana County for the Republicans was the defeat of ethically-challenged State Senator Mary Jane Garcia (Senate District 36) as she lost to Republican challenger Lee Cotter by a 54%-46% margin.

In other races, In Los Alamos & Santa Fe Counties, Dem Stephanie Richard Garcia appeared to topple Republican incumbent James Hall to pick the seat up for the majority party in the State House, while San Juan Dem State Rep. Rep. Ray Begaye--himself a target of ethics charges--lost to Republican Native American challenger Sharon Clahchischilliage (see if this shows up in the NY Times Crossword Puzzle someday!) by a comfortable 23 point margin.

In Valencia County--where Republicans ran much more competitively against Barack Obama--the GOP held both its State House seats as incumbent Rep. Alonzo Baldonado defeated Dem challenger Frank Otero by about 600 votes and newcomer Kelly Fajardo led former State Rep. Andrew Barreras by less than 100 votes at deadline time.

Thanks, Bruce. And thanks to the many other contributors to our broadcast coverage. 

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