In short, the 2020 primary was a good night for progressive Democrats up and down the ballot, including state and federal races – though there is reason for Republican optimism as explained below.
New Mexico Senate
Across New Mexico, a slew of moderate-to-conservative Democratic state Senators lost their primaries to a slate of progressives under the banner of a coalition called “No Corporate Democrats”. Ultimately four of the five women took out fellow Democrats who had long stood up against the progressive agenda in New Mexico. In western/central New Mexico, Siah Correa Hemphill soundly defeated state Sen. Gabe Ramos; Pam Cordova beat state Sen. Clemente Sanchez by over 1,000 votes. Noreen Kelly was the only candidate on the slate who lost – though she did not formally launch her campaign until March.
In addition, Leo Jaramillo, who was not officially on the No Corporate Democrat slate, defeated five-term incumbent Sen. Richard Martinez, a lawmaker convicted and jailed for drunk driving and who was also one of four Dems to vote against the so-called “red-flag” gun control law.
In southern New Mexico, twenty-year incumbent senate pro tempore Mary Kay Papen lost a nail-biting primary to progressive challenger Carrie Hamblen. Likewise, thirty-year incumbent state Sen. John Arthur Smith went down to a challenge from Neomi Martinez-Parra.
Tuesday night proved that progressives have slowly but surely taken control of the historically moderate levers of power in the New Mexico Democratic party.
U.S. House of Representatives
In the race for the open northern congressional seat, Democrats nominated Teresa Leger-Fernandez, who was endorsed by progressive CD-1 Rep. Deb Haaland, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, various gun control advocacy groups, and even New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC.
But Democrats may have been the most overjoyed by a certain Republican primary.
Following a particularly nasty primary, former state Rep. Yvette Herrell has once again emerged as the nominee for New Mexico’s second congressional district. Two years ago, Herrell lost the seat to Democrat Xochitl Torres-Small in a tight race.
A six-figure ad buy from a Democratic organization in the closing stretch of the campaign may have sealed the win for Herrell. The creatively titled Patriot Majority PAC aired an ad that propped Herrell up as the true Trump loyalist in the race. The intention behind the ad was to make sure Torres-Small faced the easiest opponent in the general election.
Based on the response from Democrats, the ad worked. Liberal blog Daily Kos bragged, “National Dems (were) continuing to get (the) result they want”. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Cole Leiter tweeted; “Washington Republicans REALLY didn’t want another round of Yvette Herrell in #NM02. Well, that’s what they got.”
Heading into November, incumbent Torres-Small has a campaign war chest of over three and a half million dollars, cash on hand. Herrell has seventy thousand.
Republicans have some reasons to be optimistic, first and foremost due to Mark Ronchetti, who won the Republican U.S. Senate primary with an impressive 56% of the vote (more on that in a moment). Congressman Ben Ray Luján ran unopposed in the Democrat primary for U.S. Senate.
Ben Ray Luján has never faced a truly difficult campaign. He will in November. As a former meteorologist for one of the city’s largest television stations, Ronchetti is a well-known figure in the Albuquerque media market, including southeast New Mexico, where Lujan’s background and name recognition is low.
One of the reasons for Herrell’s loss in 2018 was the uncompetitive gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races that year. That will not be the case this year with Ronchetti. If Ronchetti has a shot at winning Bernalillo county, and he does, he could very well win the entire election – and his impact will most likely affect down ballot races and even Donald Trump’s performance this November.
New Mexico is a state the Trump campaign talks about flipping, but not too many signs of that this week. In the Pres. primary, Dems outvoted Rs 60/40. #NM02, the only GOP-leaning seat, had a high profile House primary to help turnout, but cast by far the fewest votes. pic.twitter.com/BRzxouJKm3
— J. Miles Coleman (@JMilesColeman) June 4, 2020
This logic goes against the insight in this graphic, which argues that New Mexico is out of play for the Trump campaign. The effectiveness of a media savvy Ronchetti campaign will be one of the largest factors that can change the color of that map. Also note the GOP margin in CD2: it has been and continues to be a red district, but Herrell’s primary election effectiveness has not been shown to carry over to the general campaign.
The divisions in the Democratic party, which were fully on display Tuesday night, could tilt key races in Republicans’ favor. Every effort ought to be made to reach out to moderate Democrats who supported their moderate state Senators. Many of the Democrats in those districts are culturally conservative, and they will vote for the right Republican candidate, as Pete Domenici, Susana Martinez, and Steve Pearce proved in their elections.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that while the activity and funding amounts of conservative organizations is well known and publicized in the media (including Chevron Oil spending $700,000 in support of the conservative Democrats), the Left has been organizing and influencing elections almost entirely in the shadows. For example, the progressive Working Families Party (a national organization headquartered in New York with a New Mexican chapter) is a 501(c)(4) organization, a so-called “dark money” group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money without any disclosure requirements.
While the influence of political spending that is almost untraceable is a problem, it is to the detriment of conservative interests not to be playing by the same rules. Come November, expect more “dark money” activites, especially with a tight presidential race and a competitive U.S. Senate campaign not seen in New Mexico for a long time.
Dax Contreras contributed to this report.