Friday, September 08, 2006

New Mexico Governor Race

Race of the Day

September 8, 2006
60 Days Until Election Day

New Mexico Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

First term Democrat Governor Bill Richardson is a solid favorite to win reelection, after which he is likely to immediately start running for President.

Richardson, who has previously been a Congressman, a Cabinet Secretary, and a UN Ambassador, is regarded as highly ambitious and has been described as one of the only Governors to have a foreign policy, poking some fun at his frequent appearances on national news programs that have little to do with his work as Governor of New Mexico. His popularity in the state is strong though despite some embarrassing press in recent years regarding his perhaps being less than honest about a past professional baseball career, and a really curious habit that has him playfully touching or roughhousing with men, women, and children, in ways that some believe comes across as inappropriate and undignified.

The uncontested winner of the Republican primary to oppose Richardson this year was a physician and political novice, who had been running a fairly low-key campaign. However, that nominee almost immediately withdrew from the race after the primary and Republicans then selected, John Dendahl, the boisterous former state party chairman, whose role in this campaign has been described as “sacrificial lion.”

Few expect that Dendahl might actually be elected Governor, but he might have been picked to more effectively take the fight to Richardson, damaging him for a potential Presidential run, and bringing about greater enthusiasm among Republican base voters for other key races in the states. Few doubt that Dendahl will be able to draw attention and perhaps succeed in getting under Richardson’s skin, but the GOP nominee, who lost a 1994 primary for Governor, will have to deal with the fact that he has in the past feuded with other Republicans and can appear to be a divisive figure.

In what appears to be the lone poll on this race, which was conducted by Rasmussen Reports, Richardson has a healthy lead of 56-32 over his opponent. That indicates that Richardson is almost certain to win, but the reason I am not prepared at this point to call the race “safe” for him is that Dendahl’s attacks will bring out people to vote against Richardson, perhaps on the issues, perhaps on the incumbent’s personality, but also as a way to send a message that they believe he has been neglecting the state in pursuit of higher ambitions. Richardson was embarrassed in 2004, when as Governor, his state voted to reelect President Bush, one of just two states to switch from blue to red. New Mexico had a Republican Governor in 2000 when GWB lost the state, so his winning in it during his reelection in spite of the supposedly strong Richardson political operation was notable.

If any future poll shows Richardson breaking 60, I will call him “safe”, but at this point, I think he is headed to an easy reelection victory, but with Dendahl placing within 20 points of him. Nonetheless, look for this popular Governor of a swing state, to perhaps be the first Hispanic-American ever to appear on a national ticket in 2008.

Dendahl campaign link:

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 7 D, 16 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 15 D, 22 R