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Monday, March 12, 2018

Martinez Sapped The Dem Energy But Trump Brought It Back; Delegates Frolic At Pre-Primary Convention As They Winnow The Field In Key State Races; Complete Coverage And Analysis Is Up Next  

Rep. Lujan Grisham
Governor Martinez took it away but President Trump helped bring it back. After eight nearly years of being browbeaten by the R's the New Mexico Democratic Party was reenergized this weekend at its pre-primary convention. The 1,500 delegates to the ABQ convention acted like freed hostages hooting and hollering at the speeches and nearly gloating over their improved prospects this cycle.

Even while basking in her landslide convention win that matched expectations, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Lujan Grisham declared that complacency may be the D's newest obstacle, warning that beating Republican Steve Pearce will not be a lay-up.

(Complete results for all offices here.)

But the congresswoman was one of the few fretting. Delegates were relishing the upcoming November election in which pundits of all stripes are predicting the Governor's office will return to the Dems and that their chances to take all of the statewide offices up for election hasn't looked this good in years.

The state GOP did its best to restrain the frolicking, calling parts of the convention "chaos" but that only underscored their defensiveness, a fresh posture for the minority party that now looks at November 6th like a date with death row. Now on to the action.

GOVERNOR 

Out of deference to possible future events we won't call Rep. Lujan Grisham the "probable nominee" for Governor but right now she is. When you score 67% of the vote, deny two of your three opponents the needed 20 percent to get an official ballot spot and when your lone foe to make that crucial mark--Jeff Apodoca--does so with only a point to spare, a sense of inevitably begins to surround a candidacy.

Apodaca is known for his feistiness and is expected to battle on but veteran analyst Greg Payne says his challenge is daunting:

Dem Guv Candidates
He will have to raise a lot of money which won't be easy after what happened at the convention. And he is faced with deciding whether he wages a fierce negative campaign against Lujan Grisham who just scored an outsized win in his party. It may be his only viable option but I think we will be wary of going there. 

State Senator Joe Cervantes vows to fight on, despite garnering only 10 percent of the delegate votes. He also faces a tough decision--does he put up at least $1.5 million of his  personal wealth to take on the front-runner? Now that's a craps game we'd like to watch.

Longshot progressive Peter DeBenedettis doesn't have any decision to make. He withdrew at the convention and endorsed Apodaca. And that means for the first time this election year we get to use that old standby: "Politics makes for strange bedfellows."

What's next? Apodaca will likely take some measured digs at Lujan Grisham, hoping to force here into a fumble on which he could pounce and use to redefine the race which was so clearly defined Saturday.

LT. GOVERNOR 

Howie Morales came in first at the 2014 Dem pre-primary when he ran for Governor, only to lose the June primary nomination to Gary King. History is not likely to repeat.

The Silver City state senator scored an impressive 50 percent of the vote in a four way contest for lieutenant governor Saturday. He does well on TV, balances the ticket ethnically (Hispanic male) and geographically if Lujan Grisham is the nominee. He's on his way.

Former ABQ State Rep. Rick Miera is one of the most qualified lieutenant governor candidates the state has seen but he managed only 28% at the convention, another sparkless performance which mimics what's been happening on the campaign trail.

ABQ CONGRESS

The delegates did their job and winnowed this six way race for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat to two, well, maybe two and a half. Former NM Dem Chair Deb Haaland won with 35% followed by law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez with 25%. The other three, including ABQ City Councilor Pat Davis whose supporters touted his organizational ability, were crushed. Davis won only14%. Former US Attorney Damon Martinez did even worse, coming in at 11% and Damian Lara at 12.

So if Haaland and Sedillo Lopez are the two left standing who is the "half candidate?" That would be Martinez who raised over $300,000 before the convention and hasn't spent much. Can he defy history and win? Probably not. The party has signaled that it is looking for a progressive candidate to replace Lujan Grisham and Martinez does not fit the bill. The ABQ Dem party of today has moved away from the pragmatic centrism that Martinez represents and once was essential to winning the seat. No more.

What to look for: Will national Native American money come in heavier for Haaland in the wake of her win? And what about her loose campaign spending ways that have been criticized? Her staff says she has reorganized and the money is not moving out the door like it was.

Sedillo Lopez supporters say Haaland underperformed at the convention given that she once led the party, but the same might be said of Sedillo Lopez. She has led the fund-raising but failed to keep the convention race close.

SOUTHERN CONGRESS

No surprise here. National and local Dems have anointed Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces as a rising star and she scored a 65% to 35% pre-primary win over Soccoro's Mad Hildebrandt. Something similar can be expected in the June primary. It may not be fair to Hildebrand that the Dems cleared the field for Torres Small, but when does that matter?

LAND COMMISSIONER 

Heinrich & VeneKlasen
Yes, there was a snafu on this one in Alligator land, but as in every other contested race, the Gators nailed the land commissioner winner which in this case was State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard who claimed 44%. But the pre-primary preview blog had Gallup State Senator George Munoz coming in second and environmentalist Garrett VeneKlasen third. But it was VeneKlasen getting 39 percent for second and Munoz in third with 17 percent.

What happened? Well, we got sloppy. A survey of the delegates floated before the pre-primary had Munoz running third but several of the Gators thought it was second.

For our part, we forgot that Sen. Martin Heinrich has endorsed VeneKlasen, even nominating him at the convention, giving him added momentum. Not that Heinrich is especially forgettable. We just weren't paying close enough attention,

For those hoping that our error means punishment by 10 lashes with a wet noodle, you can keep your pasta in the pantry. The Gators called the winner and that's the main event.

As for the June 5 primary, Munoz will have to hustle to prevent this one from quickly becoming Garcia Richard vs. VeneKlasen. His17% showing is ominous. We recall only one candidate going on to win a statewide primary when failing to get the 20 percent needed for an official ballot position. That was the aforementioned Gary King in 2014.

Longtime analyst Steve Cabiedes says political rookie VeneKlasen may need even more bolstering from Heinrich and company and Garcia Richard will need to hope that Munoz doesn't get off the canvas after his knockdown. If he stays down it would give her an easier path in the heavy Hispanic north.

STATE AUDITOR 

Driving I-25 north Saturday in the hours after the convention we spotted a billboard for Dem State Auditor candidate and Las Cruces area State Rep. Bill McCamley. The billboard was paid for by an independent group whose name we did not make out. That's a potentially important development in the chase for the Auditor's office. As predicted here, the more liberal McCamley handily dispatched former NM Dem Party Chair Brian Colón 60.46% to 39.4% but Colón is known for his fund-raising prowess. If independent groups can narrow that gap for McCamley it could change the character of the race.

Analyst Cabiedes said:

As the Hispanic candidate Colon benefits from compelling demographics that could propel him ahead. However, there may be some Colón fatigue after he served as party chair, ran and lost for mayor last year and in 2010 ran for lieutenant governor. McCamley's challenge will be to get people to pay attention to this dow ballot race and disrupt Colón's demographic edge.

The Democrats had no competitive contests for US Senate, the northern congressional seat, secretary of state, attorney general or state treasurer. All are held by incumbents and considered safe in the general election.

MEDIUM RARE, JEFF

Carr
Lt. Gov. hopeful Jeff Carr tangled with the Alligators when they predicted he would not make the 20 percent mark at the convention. The Taos educator upped the stakes and declared that he would not only reach 20% but get to 30% and that when he did he expected us to buy him dinner. We countered that if we were right we were expecting a steak dinner from him at ABQ's ritzy Ruth's Chris steakhouse.

Carr scored only 13 percent. So. . .

Jeff, don't spend all that leftover campaign money at Doc Martin's up there in Taos. We've got a medium rare rib eye in our mind's eye and with your name on the check.

THE BOTTOM LINES

For policy nerds only: The State Dem Party Platform passed with 90% support. You can read it here. . .

We've blogged that Gary King is the only candidate to win a primary after failing to get 20 percent of delegate support at the pre-primary. Both the Journal and New Mexican said there have been "candidates" who have accomplished the feat. We asked veteran Journal capitol reporter Dan Boyd who were the others. Neither he or I could come up with another example. So until we're shown otherwise, Gary is the sole politico to accomplish the feat. . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018
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