Monday, July 11, 2016

Headed South For The Senate: Longshot GOP Takeover Of Upper Chamber Faces Strong Headwinds In Dona Ana 

There's Deb Haaland, chair of the NM Dem Party and Vice-Chair Juan Sanchez, cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Doña Ana County party headquarters. Expect their scissors to remain sharp through November as Las Cruces has become a kind of ground zero for the forthcoming battle for control of the NM Legislature.

Early signs out of the county, however, show how difficult a task it will be for the R's to engineer an historic takeover of the state senate, currently under the wing of the  Dems 24-18 margin.

Jeff Steinborn, a state rep from a well-known real estate family, is expected to topple Republican freshman Senator Lee Cotter who took the district four years ago as a result of a scandal enveloping Dem Sen. Mary Jane Garcia. The district performance in elections is normally 53.2 percent Democratic. A Steinborn win could doom any takeover dreams the Rs harbor as they will need to nearly run the table Election Night to stage the upset.

Also, Las Cruces Senator Bill Soules seems in good shape. The Democrat is being challenged by Las Cruces Republican City Councilor Ceil Levatino. But she needs to move a bit to the center to have a good shot. Last week when the Las Cruces city council voted 5 to 1 to ask the state legislature to require background checks on gun purchases Levatino was the sole negative vote on the measure. She was wrapped in the praise of the NRA, not exactly a move to the center. And then there is her ardent pro-life stance which Soules is sure to raise doubts about.

Levatino is a political fighter who managed an impressive win in a Dem oriented city council district in '13 but Soules, 60, is a respected teacher with deep ties to the district (a Las Cruces High and NMSU grad). He took the district with 52.2 percent in 2012. If he pushes Levatino further into Trump's lap all the better for him.

Granted, the performance in the district is an even 50-50 between the two parties and Levatino is going to get plenty of money from conservative PACS but she is going to need a hat trick--like something we don't know about Soules--to get this moving more her way. And Soules won't be under financed, already having $84,000 in cash on hand. Levatino has over $50,000.

One other note. The sister of Soules--Merrie Lee Soules--is the Dem nominee for the southern congressional seat held by GOP Rep. Steve Pearce. He is the heavy favorite to win but her candidacy could help her brother garner additional name ID.


Like we said the math is closing in fast on the R's. The news that a Green Party candidate has been disqualified from the ballot in the Senate race featuring incumbent (and appointed) GOP Senator Ted Barela and Dem Liz Stefanics furthered tightened the noose around the R's necks. The district performance is 55% and if that Green had stayed in it could have peeled votes away from Stefanics. As it is this sprawling northern and southeastern senate district is falling the Dems way.


While the Senate takeover talk may dissipate by the time the October leaves fall, the battle for the House is more competitive, although history will be on the side of the Democrats.

The R's took it over for the first time in over 60 years two years ago, but Gov. Martinez's pivot to the jobs issues and her toning down of her "all crime all the time" campaign this summer shows the ground is shifting in favor of the D's. The R's, saddled with Trump and a lousy state economy, seem in a more defensive mood than in recent cycles. Martinez's plunge in the polls doesn't help either. Still, there is a long, long way to go.


We blogged on June 29th of the effort of the "Better for America" party to get certified here so it could field a presidential candidate this November. The party is financed by a conservative donor with ties to Mitt Romney who has been looking for a third-party candidate to challenge Clinton and Trump. But he'll have to do it without New Mexico. The party submitted petition signatures to make the ballot but the secretary of state's office reports the party has not qualified for the ballot. Well, there's always Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. . .

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