SANTA FE, New Mexico, July 17, 2017 – Next year New Mexico Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will be leaving office, like Democrat Bill Richardson before her, with low approval ratings and with a whiff of scandal.
Mid-term elections are, as a baseline, never good for the President’s party, let alone a president who is not very popular in New Mexico. On top of that, the Sen. Martin Hendrich, D-N.M., who is up for re-election, is not seen as particularly vulnerable. In short, the year is not shaping up to be a good year for Republicans.
It was somewhat surprising, then, when the state’s lone Republican member of Congress announced he was giving up his safe Republican-leaning seat in order to run for Governor. Steve Pearce, however, has a history of jumping into big races with little hope of victory. He has twice sought a U.S. Senate seat, first losing the primary in 2000 and then, as the GOP nominee, losing the 2008 election in a lopsided landslide.
A far-right firebrand, Pearce was an early and vocal supporter of Donald Trump, unusual among members of Congress. The talk of him as a sacrificial lamb in a race the Republicans have little hope to win is already circulating in New Mexico political circles.
Other potential Republican gubernatorial candidates have bowed out, including the state’s lieutenant governor and the mayor of Albuquerque: Pearce is seen as having cleared the field for the Republican nomination. Running from the Trumpkin right, he would make a formidable primary opponent even without financial resources. However, the dynamic in the Land of Enchantment state leans Democrat. They hold most of the statewide elected executive offices, the state senate, both of the state’s senators, and three of its four representatives. Republicans hold the lower house of the legislature, but only narrowly. They may well lose that in 2018.
One potential wildcard: Based on the party’s 2016 results as well as its voter registration totals, the Libertarian Party of New Mexico now enjoys major-party status. That was in no small part due to the presence of popular two-term former Gov. Gary Johnson (who served as a maverick – and popular – Republican governor from 1995-2003), as the Libertarian presidential nominee. Were Johnson to enter the governor’s race again, either as a Republican or as Libertarian, he would be certain to shake things up.
Also, the Democrats are suffering from a possible weak bench of potential candidates, with Democratic Rep. Michelle Grisham being the likely nominee. While it is not uncommon for representatives to seek a promotion to governor, the choice between two Washington politicians might leave voters with a sour impression.