November 6, 2018

The races to watch on Election Day



While most of the votes may have already been cast before Election Day, hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans will go to the polls today and decide the next governor—as well as a number of other races.

Note: NM Political Report will have a live blog beginning at 5:00 p.m. Come back to or see our Facebook or Twitter page around that time for a link to the live blog.

The gubernatorial contest between Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce is surely the marquee matchup to watch. Polling shows Lujan Grisham with an edge, but Republicans insist the race is closer than the public polling has shown.

The winner will replace Susana Martinez, the term-limited Republican who has seen her approval rating fall precipitously since her easy reelection in 2014.

Both gubernatorial candidates left their U.S. House seats and both have been active in government for decades. Lujan Grisham served in the administrations of Governors Bruce King, Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson, before becoming a Bernalillo County Commissioner in 2010 and then winning a seat in Congress in 2012. Pearce, meanwhile, was elected as a state legislator in 1998 and served until 2000. In 2002, Pearce won a seat in the U.S. House. Both candidates have also lost federal races: Lujan Grisham lost in the 2008 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Pearce lost in the 2000 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, then in the 2008 general election for U.S. Senate.

Whichever candidate wins will inherit a healthy budget surplus, thanks in large part to booming worldwide oil prices.

But it isn’t the only race to watch come 7:00 p.m. when polls close (and, realistically, half an hour or more after that when results start coming in).

State Land Commissioner

The race for State Land Commissioner is one of the closest races in New Mexico.

The relatively under-the-radar statewide position has an outsized role on many key issues from the state, from the stewardship of state lands, to oil and gas exploration to funding public schools.

The position is also one that Republicans have successfully won in the past, unlike many of the statewide positions.

Pat Lyons is one of those Republicans who found success, serving as commissioner from 2003 to 2010. After that, Lyons became a member of the Public Regulation Commission.

State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, a three-term state legislator, hopes to return the seat to Democrats.

The race is one of the most-expensive in the state, thanks to outside spending from oil companies, backing Lyonds, and environmental groups backing Garcia Richard.

Other Statewide Races

Secretary of State: Democratic incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Libertarian Ginger Grider and Republican Gavin Clarkson

State Auditor: Democrat Brian Colón and Republican incumbent Wayne Johnson (Johnson was appointed by Martinez)

State Treasurer: Democratic incumbent Tim Eichenberg and Republican Arthur Castillo

Attorney General: Democratic incumbent Hector Balderas, Libertarian A. Blair Dunn and Republican Michael Hendricks

2nd Congressional District

Democrats have held the conservative southern New Mexico district only once since the state earned a third district in the 1980s.

With the wind, and plenty of outside funding, behind the backs of Democrats and a strong candidate, the party hopes water attorney Xochitl Torres Small can reverse that trend. Republicans, meanwhile, have put forward Yvette Herrell, a conservative state representative.

Polling has shown Herrell with a slight lead, with two high-quality polls putting Herrell up by just one percentage point. FiveThirtyEight says Herrell has a 44 percent chance of winning—and projects her winning by just 0.8 percentage points. But Monday, the veteran election prognosticator moved the race to “Lean Democratic.” Others who rank congressional races say it is a tossup.

This all comes after an extremely expensive race, where outside groups on each side spent millions hoping to persuade southern New Mexicans on their congressional selection. Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee blanketed the airwaves with ads in both the Albuquerque and El Paso media markets.

This race has the potential to not only be the closest New Mexico race—but one of the closest congressional races in the nation.

Other federal races:

U.S. Senate: Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Republican Mick Rich

1st Congressional District (Open): Democrat Deb Haaland, Libertarian Lloyd Princeton and Republican Janice Arnold-Jones

3rd Congressional District: Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Luján, Libertarian Christopher Manning and Republican Jerald McFall

State House races

Unlike 2014, when Republicans somewhat surprisingly won the chamber, Democrats are heavily favored to keep control of the House.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t competitive races to watch as results come in. Not surprisingly, many are in the Albuquerque.

Here’s a  quick rundown of some of the most competitive races:

House District 15 – Open (R)

Incumbent Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes opted not to run for a third term in the seat which runs from Los Ranchos de Albuquerque to the far Northeast Heights in Albuquerque. Democrat Dayan Hochman-Vigil hopes to take the seat for Democrats, while former Secretary of State and Albuquerque city councilor Brad Winter is the Republican standard bearer.

House District 22 – Open (R)

Republican James Smith left the seat before becoming a Bernalillo COunty Commissioner. Now UNM surgeon Gregg Schmedes faces community organizer Jessica Velasquez in the Republican-leaning East Mountains-area district.

House District 23 – Daymon Ely (D)

Daymon Ely is likely the most endangered Democratic incumbent in the state House this year. His district includes parts of Corrales, Albuquerque’s Westside and Rio Rancho, all of which are conservative-leaning districts. Ely won by just over 100 votes in 2016, and will face retired U.S. Army air traffic controller Brenda Boatman.

House District 24 – Liz Thomson (D)

The epitome of a swing district in the last decade, this Heights-area district has been held by incumbent Liz Thomson  twice since redistricting in 2011. Republican Trey Morris, an Operations Staff Officer in the New Mexico Air Force Reserve, challenges Thomson.

House District 29 – David Adkins (R)

David Adkins won a razor-thin race in 2016 and faces another tough challenger, this time former American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico treasurer Joy Garratt, who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2016. The Republican-leaning district is mainly in Albuquerque’s Westside, and includes some areas of southern Rio Rancho.

House District 30 – Open (R)

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry decided not to run for reelection in the Democratic-trending Northeast Heights seat. Democrat Natalie Figueroa, a high school Spanish teacher, lost to Gentry by 4.4 percentage points in 2016, and now hopes to defeat John Jones, a retired Navy commander and husband of 1st Congressional District Republican candidate Janice Arnold-Jones.

House District 43 – Open (D)

The Los Alamos-area seat was a Republican stronghold until Garcia Richard won in 2012. Los Alamos County Councilor Christine Chandler is the Democrat seeking to keep the seat in the party’s hands, while optometrist Lisa Shin, an ardent Donald Trump supporter in a Trump-skeptic area of the state, is the Republican candidate.

House District 46 – Open (D)

There is no Republican in the Santa Fe county race but Democrat Andrea Romero faces a write-in candidate, Los Alamos National Laboratory employee Heather Nordquist, also a Democrat. No write-in candidate has ever won a legislative race in New Mexico, but Romero is dogged by allegations related to travel and expense reimbursements she made while executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

House District 53 – Ricky Little (R)

Ricky Little has won a number of close races, including a 137-vote victory in 2016 against former schoolteacher Willie Madrid. Madrid is back for another run in the district that includes rural eastern Doña Ana County and parts of Otero County. A key area in the race is Chaparral, an unincorporated community split between the two counties.

House District 63 – George Dodge Jr. (D)

The district is the most conservative of any district held currently held by a Democrat. The Navy veteran has held the seat since 2011, and now faces Republican rachner Martin Zamora. The district is a big one—it includes all of sparsely-populated Guadalupe and De Baca counties, and includes parts of Roosevelt and Curry counties as well as a sliver of San Miguel County.

House District 68 – Monica Youngblood (R)

It’s fair to say that this race wasn’t on anyone’s radar before May, when Monica Youngblood was arrested for a DWI. The Republican incumbent was convicted in September, and will face retired United Church of Christ minister Karen Bash.

Longshot races

With 70 districts and not much information, there is always the chance for an unforeseen upset. Here are some possible races:

House District 4: Democrat Anthony Allison vs. Republican incumbent Sharon Clahchischilliage

House District 7: Democrat LeRoy Baca vs. Republican incumbent Kelly Fajardo

House District 20: Democrat Abbas Akhil vs. Republican incumbent Jim Dines

House District 27: (Open, previous Republican) Democrat William Pratt vs. Republican Robert Godshall

House District 28: Democrat Melanie Stansbury vs. Republican incumbent Jimmie Hall

House District 33: (Open, previous Democrat) Democrat Micaela Lara Cadena vs. Republican Charles Wender

House District 36: Democratic incumbent Nathan Small vs. Republican David Tofsted

House District 50: Democratic incumbent Matthew McQueen vs. Independent Jarratt Applewhite

House District 51: (Open, previous Republican) Democrat Jeff Swanson vs. Republican Rachel Black

Correction: This air originally said an independent was running in House District 46, Amadeo Ortiz, but he was removed from the ballot. And Abbas Akhil replaced Dathan Weeks as the Democratic candidate in House District 20.