Did Susana Martinez’ campaign strategists influence the selection of Martinez’ opponent? Did the Martinez machine want Gary King to be the Democratic nominee for governor?
Brian Sanderoff thinks so.
That was one of several points Sanderoff made in a recent talk about the forces at work in this year’s election. Despite how we prefer to think of ourselves, in many ways we voters are the captives of trends, from ethnic preferences to the unpopularity of sixth-year presidents.
Sanderoff is president of Research and Polling and a respected analyst of New Mexico politics.
In the Democratic primary, we recall, there were five candidates, three Hispanic and two Anglo. The Martinez campaign ran TV commercials during the primary against candidate Alan Webber. The intention, said Sanderoff, was to draw Anglo votes from Webber, which would tend to shift to King. With Hispanic voters divided, that would put King on top.
King, Sanderoff explained, would be the easiest candidate to beat, because he has the longest public record. He has served eight years as attorney general and 10 years in the legislature. That enabled the Martinez opposition researchers to find negative gems like the building in Moriarty that has no doubt become the best known lease in state history. (King explained to me that there was no other building available in Moriarty to serve as a public health clinic, and he gave the state a very favorable deal.)
Please don’t be shocked, shocked. Politics is a nasty business and running ads is a perfectly legitimate tactic under today’s rule book. The Martinez campaign was a state-of-the art professional endeavor, and negative ads work.
Opposition research is not uniquely Republican. Apparently someone from Tom Udall’s campaign was in the audience with a recording device when Allen Weh issued his now-famous “so what.”
In the background of this election is a major shift in New Mexico voter registration. While Republican registration has remained constant at about 31 percent, since 1982 Democratic registration has dropped from 63 to 47 percent, while independent voters (“DTS” or “decline to state” in New Mexico parlance) have increased from seven to 22 percent. The youngest voters, age 18 to 22, are more likely to be DTS than registered in either party.
New Mexico has more Hispanics than Anglos (47 percent to 40 percent), according to Sanderoff’s statistics, and some people vote their ethnicity. Hispanic Democrats have to make a choice when a Hispanic Republican is running against a non-Hispanic Democrat. The crossover vote helped widen the margin of Martinez’ win. It also may help explain why the Republicans ran candidates named Lopez and Aragon in the second-tier positions of state treasurer and auditor.
One curious trend Sanderoff points out is that in presidential midterm elections, the President’s party usually loses seats in the New Mexico House as well as in Congress. The loss this year has put Republicans in control of the House, but that happened with only four seats changing parties. The big loss was in 2010, when the Democrats lost eight seats. Democrats also lost in the midterms of the Carter and Clinton administrations, and Republicans lost seats during the Reagan and Bush years.
If you don’t know much about the State Land Office, and you voted for Aubrey Dunn, it’s likely you did so for one reason. The Dixon Apple Orchard TV commercial.
In that advertisement, the former owner of the Dixon orchard blamed commissioner Ray Powell for her family’s financial loss after the orchard was damaged by fire and flood. It was a devastatingly powerful ad, and Powell’s response was too little, too late, too wimpy.
It remains to be seen whether Dunn will make a better commissioner than Powell has been. We didn’t elect him on the basis of his qualifications. And that’s pretty much the case for most of the people we elected.
© 2014 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES