Thursday, September 13, 2018

New Mexico U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

54 Days Until Election Day

New Mexico U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

If nothing else can be said, a rather below the radar race has intensified and become more interesting in recent weeks with the entrance of a prominent third party candidate. It remains to be seen if, though it is highly possible that the Republican nominee may now be destined to finish in third place. However, while the lead for the Democrat incumbent is apparently shrinking, his two main opponents are splitting the vote and probably preventing the November upset from ocurring.

In 2012, Democrat Martin Heinrich was elected to the Senate in a competitive race from a state where Democrats have lately held a distinct statewide advantage in federal races  The newly elected Senator had previously served two terms in the House and was considered a young and telegenic rising star for his party. For whatever reason though, Democrat Senators from New Mexico tend to not get a lot of national attention. Heinrich has really been fairly low-key during his freshman term, though he took part in a reality show of sorts in 2014, when he and his Arizona Republican colleague Jeff Flake lived together for six days on a deserted island as part of "Rival Survival." Both men have continued to be advocates for greater civility and bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

As he went about seeking a second term, Heinrich was considered fairly safe in his seat. Only one Republican candidate emerged to oppose him and the nomination went to construction company executive Mick Rich who is running on the slogan of "Send a Hard Hat to Washington." Conservative groups lined up to back the GOP nominee, but polls showed he trailed the incumbent signifcantly.

Libertarians this cycle though have major party ballot access in New Mexico because Presidential nominee Gary Johnson, a former Governor received nine percent in his home state (while receiving three percent nationally.) With this factor, the state's elected GOP Commissioner of Public Lands, Aubrey Dunn launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian. He had fallen out of favor with others in the New Mexico Republican Party, and while not a threat to win the race, was considered likely to take away Republican votes and help the incumbent.

This summer though, speculation began that Dunn would drop out of the race and that Libertarians would replace him with Gary Johnson himself. Indeed, that is what happened, after Johnson publicly mulled it over for a couple weeks. It was a bit of a surprise development that would have understandably surprised and perhaps upset both major party nominees.

A businessman and political outsider, Johnson won two terms as New Mexico's Governor in the 1990s, as a Republican, where he governed with a distinct libertarian bent. After leaving office via term limits, he became closer to the official Libertarian Party, the marijuana legalization lobby, and Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, a past Libertarian Presidential nominee who served two stints in Congress as a Republican. By 2012, Johnson launched a longshot bid for the GOP Presidential nomination, but received little traction, because Ron Paul was again on the Republican stage and had far more devoted followers.

By 2016, with Paul's son, the Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul running for President as a Republican, Johnson decided to seek the Libertarian nomination for the White House and was successful. Rand Paul's campaign however went nowhere, as many of his expected supporters gravitated to the outsider (and very non-libertarian for the most part) message of Donald Trump. Running in the general election, Johnson, who teamed up with a moderate former GOP Governor as his Libertarian running-mate, seemed to have real potential to win the votes of both "Never Trump" Republicans and Democrats who felt that their party establishment rigged their Presidential contest unfairly against Bernie Sanders. Johnson ran on economic conservatism, social liberalism, especially on marijuana (though he tried to take a middle position on abortion) and foreign policy interventionist skepticism. In some ways, it was the most "mainstream" Libertarian Presidential campaign ever, but Johnson never caught on, especially given how huge of an opportunity he had to poll high enough to qualify for the televised debates.

The Libertarian candidate, who claimed he no longer partook in weed (though he had in recent years) seemed a bit "dazed and confused" at times. He did not seem to have anywhere near enough policy knowledge or gravitas to get the support of as many disaffected Republicans as he could. (Only Donald Trump proved capable of getting away with being ignorant and misinformed.) Late night comedians frequently made fun of him and it seemed like Johnson was not really giving a forceful effort to break through.

Now though, Johnson wants to run for the U.S. Senate in a state that knows him best and he performed the strongest, albeit still a single digit effort against two unpopular major party nominees. His former running-mate, ex Massachusetts Governor William Weld is supporting him as is Rand Paul, the newly devoted Trump associate, who is of course technically a GOP U.S. Senator and is supporting Johnson over the official nominee of his own party.

While Mick Rich had no realistic chance of beating Martin Heinrich one on one, this new contest opens up many questions. First and foremost, might Gary Johnson have enough support to beat out Rich? Based on the most recent poll, the answer is yes, and many speculated or hoped that Rich would leave the race, in order to have Johnson become the de facto GOP candidate, where he might have a realistic chance of beating Heinrich in a one on on race. Nonetheless, the deadline passed, Rich did not drop out, and seems to have no intention to.

If for some reason, the Gary Johnson Senate campaign catches on with young people or others that are supposed to be left-leaning voters for Heinrich, then Rich might be suddenly competitive in a three-way race. I just do not see how this is likely to occur though. Most likely, it will be the Republican base, which is already the minority in the state, that will be fractured, and there is no real evidence that Heinrich has problems among Democrats.

Johnson  is but certain to get at least the same share of the vote he received in the state as a Presidential candidate, but possibly a lot more, simple because the official Republican nominee is now seen as more of an afterthought. Hillary Clinton won the state two years ago by eight points over Trump and that is probably about the size of the victory that Heinrich will ultimately have. The biggest question might be who gets the silver medal.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
15 D (7 Safe, 3 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
  6 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
38 D (23 holdovers, 7 Safe, 3 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
48 R (42 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

I don't see Heinrich losing.


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