Democrats’ Mission in N.M.: Breaking Steve Pearce

Posted November 13, 2013 at 4:50pm

In the Land of Enchantment, candidates matter. Both parties can rout statewide in New Mexico and, as a result, operatives emphasize grooming their up-and-coming talent.

“This is a blue state, but [winning] probably has more to do with the candidates,” said Democratic consultant Scott Forrester. “Candidates and campaigns matter here in New Mexico.”

Democrats hold both Senate seats and President Barack Obama easily carried the state in 2008 and 2012. But in between those two presidential campaigns, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez took power and is expected to coast to re-election next year.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall will appear on the 2014 ballot with Martinez, and both parties consider him safe for re-election, too. Still, a handful of GOP challengers for Udall are emerging: Former Doña Ana County GOP Chairman David Clements announced in October, while former state GOP Chairman Allen Weh and former state Rep. Robert Aragon are also weighing runs, according to sources.

Given that Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich just won his seat last year, there probably won’t be an open-seat Senate race anytime soon in New Mexico.

If one of the senators moves on, Democrats name state Auditor Hector Balderas, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, her distant cousin Rep. Ben Ray Luján, and state Sen. Tim Keller as possible successors.

In the future, Republicans named Pueblo of Laguna Gov. Richard B. Luarkie and Lt. Gov. John A. Sanchez as potential statewide contenders.

Republican also said they have confidence in Jose Orozco, the new Republican National Committee New Mexico Hispanic engagement director, as a future candidate.

For the most part, Democrats are not posing a challenge to Martinez’s re-election. The political action will likely be in some of the state’s three House seats instead.

Rep. Steve Pearce is the only Republican in the delegation, and the GOP has traditionally considered his 2nd District to be a safe seat for the party. But Democrats plan to target it as part of their aggressive effort to expand the House playing field in 2014.

Two Democrats are running in the 2nd District: former Eddy County Commissioner Roxanne Lara and attorney Leslie Endean-Singh. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee telegraphed its support for Lara when it named her to the Jumpstart program in early September.

“Everyone’s thinking in New Mexico that Roxanne gets her name out now and runs again and beats [Pearce] in 2016,” said a New Mexico-based Democratic consultant who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “By 2016 or 2018, this will be a Democratic district.”

A burgeoning Hispanic population in the 2nd District is slowly making that territory more competitive for Democrats. Still, state GOP Chairman John Billingsley praised Pearce’s campaigning skills and said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Washington Democrats say the seat is in play. “But I think they need to take a closer look at his district before they really get serious about it,” Billingsley cautioned.

If Democrats fall short this year, party operatives view Doña Ana County Commissioners Chairman Billy Garrett, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes and Democratic National Commiteewoman Joni Gutierrez as viable future candidates as well. And if Pearce leaves office, Republicans said Luarkie is a strong contender to run for the seat, though he will need to move into the 2nd District.

Democrats are already talking Lujan Grisham up as a prospective statewide candidate, though she’s in her first term and the 1st District is less competitive. They’re already readying the bench, which includes Matt Biggs, Maggie Hart Stebbins, and Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Third-term Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s 3rd District is similarly safe for Democrats.

With an eye on the long game, Democrats mention Santa Fe mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales, state Rep. Brian Egolf and state Sen. Peter Wirth as possible successors.

Farm Team is a weekly, state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.