March 8, 2016

Here are the key legislative races to watch

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

Today is the day that candidates for state House and Senate file to say that they are, indeed, running.

register-to-voteAs candidates file their intention to run for public office, we decided to take a look forward a few months to what districts the two parties will be focusing on come November and the general elections.

The top of the ticket matters.

Two years ago, Republicans took the state House of Representatives for the first time in a half-century.

That same election saw Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, trounce Democratic opponent Gary King by more than 14 points statewide. Martinez’s win was so big that she won usually-reliable Democratic districts like one in Albuquerque’s International District, where Democrat Mimi Stewart didn’t even net a Republican challenger (Stewart was later appointed to the Senate to replace Democrat Tim Keller, who was elected State Auditor that year).

Martinez won the vote in districts represented by Democratic Reps. Eliseo Alcon, George Dodge, Doreen Gallegos, Dona Irwin, Georgene Louis, Patricia Lundstrom, Ken Martinez, Antonio “Moe” Maestas, Matthew McQueen and Jeff Steinborn.

Martinez also beat King in state Senate districts represented by Democrats Pete Campos, Jacob Candelaria, Joseph Cervantes, Phil Griego, Daniel Ivey-Soto, Tim Keller, Howie Morales, Michael Padilla, Clemente Sanchez, Michael Sanchez, John Sapien and John Arthur Smith.

Griego’s former seat is now held by Ted Barela, a Republican that the governor appointed after Griego resigned for violating the state constitution and Senate ethics rules.

All of the seats in both the Senate and House seats are up for election this year, but Martinez’s 2014 win of their districts are, in some cases, anomalies when looking back at past races.

President Barack Obama beat Republican opponent Mitt Romney in all of the districts listed above except for two: the districts represented by Irwin and Smith, conservative Democrats who both hail from Deming.

Obama also won the vote in Senate districts currently represented by Republicans Lee Cotter and John Ryan and lost both Sander Rue and Lisa Torraco’s districts by just tenths of one percentage point.

Obama beat Romney in House districts currently represented by Republicans David Adkins, Sarah Maestas Barnes, Sharon Clahchischilliage, Kelly Fajardo, Nate Gentry, Conrad James, Rick Little, Terry McMillan, Andy Nuñez, Paul Pacheco, Don Tripp and John Zimmerman.

This year, of course, is a presidential election year, which results in higher voting turnout than most. In New Mexico, presidential election years have favored Democrats for five of the last six races for the nation’s top office. The closest elections came in 2000 when Democrat Al Gore won the state by just one-tenth of a percentage point and in 2004 when Republican George W. Bush won by under 1 percent.

Democrats hope the elections will look more like the 2012 electorate than the 2014 electorate, while Republicans hope that some of the Republican wave of 2014 remains for 2016.

Bucking the top of the ticket

The name on the top of the ticket, however, can only go so far. Some of the Republican districts Obama won in 2012 and Democratic districts Martinez won in 2014 are considered too safe to even net challengers.

The Republican Party chair already admitted they are targeting seats held by Democrats Ivey-Soto, Sapien and Michael Sanchez and Soules in an attempt to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.

An average of how both parties performed in each district in the past two elections shows Soules with perhaps the most to worry about, with Republicans edging his district by half of a percentage point. Similarly, Democrats won Sapien’s district by just seven-tenths of one percent.

These numbers include all statewide races in 2014 and 2012.

Based on this data, Ivey-Soto and Michael Sanchez should be less concerned; Democrats win both on average by 10 points and six points, respectively.

On the House side, Democrats on average perform slightly better in districts represented by Republicans Maestas Barnes, Gentry, James, Nuñez, Pacheco and Zimmerman. Republicans, on average, perform better in districts represented by Democrats Dodge and Irwin.

It isn’t unheard of for candidates to win consistently in districts that seem hostile to that candidate’s party; Irwin (who is retiring) and Smith are two prominent examples of that.

Matthew Reichbach contributed reporting.