June 15, 2018

A way-too-early look at legislative races to watch

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With the primary election in the rearview mirror, the winning candidates are already looking forward to the general election, in which New Mexicans will elect a new governor and at least two new members of Congress.

But other races further down the ballot could have a more immediate impact on New Mexicans—and how much the new governor can get done in his or her first years in office.

Currently, Democrats have a 38 to 32 advantage over Republicans in the state House.

And Democrats think they can expand their majority. History shows the party that holds the White House typically loses ground in Congress. That partisan disadvantage for the president’s party can trickle down to state legislative races as well.

Democrats also start with another advantage: More than twice the number of House Democrats running won’t face major party challengers as their Republican counterparts in November.

Note: NM Political Report compiled statewide campaign performance numbers from Daily Kos Elections. That data compiled results form statewide races from 2012 to 2014 by legislative district, including averages of all those results for a “combined average performance.”

Open seats

Seven legislators opted not to run for another term this year. Some instead ran for higher office. Some just decided to spend time with their families

House District 15

The district, which spans from Los Ranchos de Albuquerque to the far Northeast Heights in Albuquerque and includes parts of the North Valley, has elected legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties over the last decade.

Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes decided not to run for a third term in office to focus on her family. The seat will likely be a main target of Democrats in 2018.

Who is running

Democrat Dayan Hochman hopes to retake the seat for Democrats. Albuquerque city councilor and former Secretary of State Brad Winter is the Republican nominee in the district. Maestas Barnes endorsed Winter when he announced his candidacy.

Why it could be competitive

In the 2016 presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton won the district by nearly 10 percentage points over Republican Donald Trump. It is the seat with the highest percentage of Clinton votes held by a Republican in the state.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 election in the district by just over 4.5 percentage points.

But it isn’t a slam dunk for Democrats. The district favored Heather Wilson over Martin Heinrich in the 2012 U.S. Senate election in the district.

Democrats have a very narrow 50.35 percent to 46.96 percent edge in statewide candidate performance.

House District 30

On filing day this year, when Republican incumbent Rep. Nate Gentry opted not to run for reelection it was a big shock. The House Minority Leader, Gentry helped Republicans take control of the state House in 2014—the first time the party had done so in decades. But Gentry’s district, an area in the Northeast Heights that has long been a Republican mainstay, has shifted toward Democrats in recent years.

Gentry was first elected in 2010 and is finishing his fourth term. Gentry said he was leaving the seat to help his parents as they deal with a serious health issue and to help with this family’s law practice.

Who is running

The seat was lined up for a rematch of 2016, when Gentry defeated Democrat Natalie Figueroa by 4.4 percentage points. But now Figueroa will face John Jones instead.

Figueroa is a high school Spanish teacher who ran unopposed in both the 2016 and 2018 Democratic primaries in the district.

Jones is a retired Navy commander and the husband of Janice Arnold-Jones, the Republican nominee for the 1st Congressional District.

Why it could be competitive

Again, an open seat in a swing district is always an important race. And here, the GOP’s leader  House won by less than 5 percentage points previously.

Clinton beat Trump by over 10 percentage points in 2016, though Libertarian Gary Johnson received 12.5 percent of the vote, while Obama beat Romney by 6 percentage points in 2012.

In other statewide races, Heinrich beat Wilson by just 12 votes in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, while Tom Udall defeated Allen Weh by over 5 percentage points in 2016.

Overall, statewide Democrats overperformed Republicans by 3.3 percentage points in the district.

House District 43

Most of the district’s population lives in Los Alamos and White Rock, but it spans parts of Santa Fe, Capulin and rural Rio Arriba County.

Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, opted to not run for a fourth-term in the one-time Republican stronghold to run for Commissioner of Public Lands. She won the Democratic nomination for the statewide position during the primary.

Who is running

Los Alamos County Councilor Christine Chandler won the Democratic primary for the seat, beating out fellow councilor Peter Sheehey. She will face Republican Lisa Shin in the general election. Shin is an optometrist and spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Why it could be competitive

The district has shifted from safe Republican to more of a swing district over the last decade. The seat was held by Jeannette Wallace, a Republican, from 1991 until her death in 2011. Gov. Martinez appointed Jim Hall, a Los Alamos county councilor, to replace Wallace. In 2012, Hall lost in a narrow race to Garcia Richard. Garcia Richard then won by over 10 percent in both her reelection campaigns.

The district voted for Wilson by over 4 percentage points in 2012, but then backed Udall by over 11 percentage points in 2014. Overall, statewide Democrats outperformed Republicans by 4.9 percentage points in 2012 and 2014.

Other open districts

In House District 22, James Smith retired and is now a Bernalillo County Commissioner. After Gregg Schmedes won the Republican primary for the seat, Gov. Susana Martinez appointed him to fill the seat until the end of the term. He will face community organizer and former teacher Jessica Velasquez, a Democrat. The East Mountains-area seat is solidly Republican.

In House District 33, Bill McCamley left the seat to run for State Auditor. He lost in the Democratic primary to Brian Colón. Now, Democrat Micaela Lara Cadena, the research director for Young Women United, will face Republican Charles Wendler, a retired schoolteacher. The district is solidly Democratic.

Yvette Herrell left House District 51 to run for Congress in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. She won the nomination and leaves behind one of the most solidly-Republican districts in the state. Otero County Chief Deputy Treasurer Rachel Black is the Republican, who is facing Jeff Swanson, a retired Army chaplain.

Dennis Roch announced he would not run again in House District 67 a district nearly as Republican-leaning as Herrell’s. Running to replace Roch are Republican rancher Jack Chatfield and Democratic paramedic Mark McDonald.

Incumbents facing challengers

Incumbent legislators don’t typically lose reelection, thanks to a number of factors. For one, incumbents are familiar to voters in their districts. And they typically have a fundraising advantage, since they can roll over unused money from previous elections to their current efforts.

Still, incumbent legislators have lost their seats in New Mexico before, especially in wave elections.

Here are a few races whose incumbents could see their challengers take their place in Santa Fe next year.

House District 23

The winding Albuquerque metro district includes parts of Corrales, Albuquerque’s Westside and Rio Rancho.

The district has had a high turnover in representatives—seven since 1998—but just two Democrats, including the most recent term of incumbent Daymon Ely.

Who is running?

Ely might be considered the biggest target for Republicans in 2018 after a narrow, 102-vote victory over Republican Paul Pacheco in 2016. He faces Brenda Boatman, a retired air traffic controller with the U.S. Army.

Why the race could be competitive

The district has leaned towards Democrats in recent years, as wins by both Obama and Clinton demonstrate. Overall, statewide Democrats have had a narrow 2 percentage point advantage in recent races in the district.

Still, the district has elected Republicans in the past at the legislative level, both narrowly (Pacheco won by just 78 votes in 2012) and by a wide margin (Pacheco won by 13 percentage points and nearly 1,200 votes in 2014).

House District 24

Voters in the Albuquerque Heights district, which spans from Spain to Lomas and touches both Tramway and Louisiana, have favored Democrats in every statewide race except the 2014 governor and Commissioner of Public Lands races.

The district has flipped between Democrats and Republicans over the past few election cycles, and Democrat Liz Thomson currently holds the seat.

Who is running?

Thomson will face Trey Morris in the general election, after the former Air Force nuclear launch officer and consultant on Kirtland Air Force Base easily won the Republican primary. Thomson is a pediatric physical therapist.

Why the race could be competitive

Since redistricting in 2011, House District 24 has been a topsy-turvy, swing district. Republican incumbent Conrad James lost to Thomson in 2012. Then, James won the district back in 2014, before losing—to Thomson again—in 2016. Republicans have performed slightly better in legislative races than statewide races in the district, which could make the race a potential pickup opportunity.

House District 29

House District 29 spreads across Albuquerque’s Westside, including Paradise Hills and some communities in southern Rio Rancho

Republican David Adkins survived a very close race in 2016 to keep the seat and is seeking a third term.

Who is running?

Adkins is running for a third term and it’s the first time he won’t face Democrat Ronnie Martinez, who he defeated in 2014 and 2016. Instead, he will face Joy Garratt, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. The former state treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico ran for state Senate in 2016, and lost by 793 votes to Sander Rue. Adkins is an Air Force veteran and small business owner.

Why the race could be competitive

Any time a candidate barely wins his or her previous election, they will likely be a target the next year—and Adkins won by just nine votes in 2016 over retired firefighter Ronnie Martinez. Adkins defeated Martinez by about 550 votes two years before that.

Meanwhile, the district tilts slightly toward Republicans, with statewide Republicans getting 49.5 percent of the vote to 47.2 percent for Democrats. However, Obama defeated Romney by 128 votes, while Clinton beat Trump by 559 votes, when Johnson pulled in nearly 1,600 votes.

House District 32

Conservative Democrats have held onto this southern New Mexico district for decades, despite a Republican-lean. The district covers the bootheel area of the state, including Deming, Lordsburg and Columbus and borders both Arizona and Mexico.

Who is running?

Candie Sweetser, the managing partner of two local radio stations, is seeking a second term after a 2.64 percentage point victory in 2016 against Vicki Chavez. She will face Dr. Laura Boyd, who works at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.

Why the race could be competitive

In 2016, the district went for Trump after narrowly backing Obama over Romney four years earlier. And statewide Republicans fared better than their Democratic counterparts in the rural district. It is one of just two seats held by Democrats where the Democratic statewide performance is under 49 percent.

House District 37

The Doña Ana County district is another swing district, and includes Las Cruces, from I-25 to outlying areas east of the city.

Who is running?

Joanne Ferrary defeated Republican Terry McMillan in 2016 and is running for reelection. The Democrat previously lost to McMillan twice, and by just eight votes in 2012. Ferrary retired from the New Mexico Department of Transportation. She faces Bev Courtney, a licensed concealed-carry instructor from Las Cruces. Courtney previously lost in 2013 and 2017 Las Cruces city council elections.

Why the race could be competitive

McMillan held the seat since 2011 and the district only narrowly backed statewide Democrats, by less than 1 percentage point. The district is generally less friendly to Democrats than the state as a whole, though both Obama and Clinton won the district.

House District 53

The district spans across rural eastern Doña Ana County into Otero County, including Chaparral, an unincorporated community split between the two counties.

Who is running?

Incumbent Ricky Little is seeking a fourth term, including a third consecutive term. Little owns a company that moves buildings. He will face Willie Madrid, a former school teacher. Both live in Chaparral, and the two faced off in 2016, when Rick Little won by 137 votes.

Why the race could be competitive

Republicans dominated the district in 2014, with nearly every statewide Republican winning by at least 15 percentage points (Allen Weh beat Udall by 4 percentage points and Robert Aragon narrowly missed the 15 percentage point barrier). But Heinrich won the district by nearly 4 percentage points in 2012, the same year Obama edged Romney by just 15 votes in the district. And Clinton won the district by nearly 6.5 percentage points over Trump.

Little himself has faced challenges since the 2012 redistricting. He lost to Nathan Cote in 2012 by 300 votes, then easily defeated Mariaelena Johnson in the 2014 Republican wave.

House District 63

The large district includes all of Guadalupe and De Baca counties in eastern New Mexico, and stretches into Roosevelt and Curry counties and even a tiny section of San Miguel County. The typically-conservative area has a long history of electing Democrats at the state House level.

Who is running?

George Dodge Jr. has held the seat since 2011 and the Democrat seeking a fifth term. Dodge is a U.S. Navy veteran, former school teacher, principal and Santa Rosa business owner. He faces rancher Martin Zamora of Clovis.

Why the race could be competitive

It’s the most conservative district held by a Democrat, even more conservative than HD 32 in southern New Mexico. Trump beat Clinton by 14.5 percentage points, though Obama narrowly defeated Romney four years earlier. The only Democrats in statewide races to win the district in 2012 or 2014 were Udall and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Longshot races

A handful of races that could spring an upset, but most are safe because of the protection of incumbency and the lean of their district. One prominent example in 2008 was when Karen Giannini defeated incumbent Justine Fox-Young despite not doing any real campaigning. Here are a handful of races that could surprise observers come November.

House District 4

The district covers the Four Corners in San Juan County, including Shiprock and a large chunk of the Navajo Nation.

Incumbent Republican Sharon Clahchischilliage is in a relatively-Democratic district at the presidential level, but she easily defeated incumbent Democrat Ray Begaye in 2012. Her closest election since was in 2016, when she won by 8.6 percentage points. Democrat Anthony Allison represents Democrats.

House District 7

The Valencia district moved to the right after redistricting in 2011 and is now slightly more Republican than Democratic in statewide elections. Republican Kelly Fajardo is seeking a fourth term and has won easily in each of her last two elections after a narrow victory in 2012. She faces Democrat LeRoy Baca, a math teacher who lost in the 2012 Democratic primary in the same seat.

House District 20

The seat once held by ex-Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry leans Republican and spans from the Southeast Heights in Albuquerque along I-40 into the East Mountains, including Carnuel. Retired attorney Jim Dines is seeking a third term in the Republican-leaning district and will face Democrat Dathan Weems, an attorney.

House District 28

The seat includes areas of Albuquerque’s Heights into the East Mountains. Incumbent Jimmie Hall hasn’t faced an opponent in either the primary or general election since 2010, before redistricting. Water attorney Melanie Stansbury is the Democratic nominee.

House District 36

The Doña Ana County district spans from northern Las Cruces to Garfield, following I-25. The district was held by Andy Nuñez, who won election as a Democrat, switched to independent, lost reelection to Democrat Philip Archuleta, then switched parties to Republican and won election. Nuñez then lost to Democrat Nathan Small, the conservation coordinator with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, in 2016. For the first time since 1998, Nuñez will not be on the ballot. Small will face Republican David Tofsted, a retired research physicist.

House District 68

The district itself may take a backseat to the Republican incumbent, after Monica Youngblood was arrested for suspicion of DWI earlier this year. The westside Albuquerque district leans Republican, and Youngblood is the only representative to hold the district since it was moved to the area after the last round of redistricting. The realtor hasn’t squared off against an opponent since her first run in 2012, but will face Karen Bash, a retired minister with the United Church of Christ.