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Friday, October 16, 2015

Dems Need Some Smelling Salts Or Risk Another Battering in '16 

This column also ran in the ABQ Free Press.

Maybe the Republicans are getting a bit ahead of themselves when they argue they can put New Mexico back into play as a swing state in the 2016 presidential race, but they have the right attitude. GOP Chair Debbie Maestas says:

"We’re on the offensive now. We are no longer on the defensive."

And why not? As we've often pointed out this is the winningest Republican Party since the days before the Great Depression. But the GOP is only a small part of the reason.

It has been the Governor's political machine led by longtime consultant Jay McCleskey that gets the lion's share of the credit. The machine has taken full advantage of the unprecedented loosening of campaign finance rules, raised millions and produced campaign ads that throw out the old rules and are so severe that they serve to lower turnout which benefits Republicans. In addition the Democrats have responded feebly to the new political order. After years in power, they forgot how to play offense, have fielded weak candidates and in the off years have failed to challenge the GOP hegemony in Santa Fe.

Interestingly, these two wings--the machine and the state GOP--have been estranged. Maestas is the daughter of former NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh as well as an ally of Harvey Yates, Jr., another former GOP chairman. Both Weh and Yates have battled with McCleskey but both have personal wealth and connections. They can bring money into the state party and make it a player whereas the Democratic Party has become a shell of its former self as all the cash floods into the super PACS.

For a machine and a state GOP not exactly fond of one another the guiding slogan is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." They will be on the same page when it comes to the long odds proposition of taking control of the state Senate from the Dems next year. Also, one suspects the Governor's past mischief of sanctioning primary contests against R's aligned with the Yates wing will be put on hold.

As for the presidential contest here, Maestas could be biting off more than she can chew but by emphasizing grassroots organization and trying to put some effort into that contest, she could spike GOP and conservative turnout that could make a difference in that critical effort to take over the Senate and retain GOP control of the state House. Democrats, who have been beaten silly by the machine all this decade, still don't appear to fully get it. A spokesman brushes off the Republican threat by arguing: ""They'll say they have a new database. They'll say they have a new ground game. And we stay blue. So, I'm not worried. We're good."

The spokesman adds, with some justification, that the chaos in the GOP presidential field and which has led to some of the leading candidates taking extreme positions, could add to their New Mexico deficit. On the other hand, the Dems may have an enthusiasm gap of their own with probable nominee Hillary Clinton. Turnout will indeed increase in the presidential year--favoring the Democrats--but it could easily fall below the 2012 level, giving the GOP an edge.

The real threat here is not that New Mexico will fall to the R's in the battle for the White House--we've gone blue in the presidential contest in three of the last four elections--but as we said above a spike in turnout for the GOP nominee could make a difference in key state Senate and House races.

If the GOP were somehow to do what looks highly improbable and take over the state Senate while keeping the House, they would control all three branches of state government for the first time in modern history. With that in mind the Dems would be well-advised to take that declaration from their rival and make it their own: "We’re on the offensive now. We are no longer on the defensive."

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author

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