The results from last night’s special elections in other parts of the country have some potential implications for campaigns in New Mexico. Here are five immediate takeaways from Tuesday’s elections:
Far left candidates struggle in suburban and rural areas
Current socialist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her comrade Bernie Sanders attempted to spread their progressive gospel with endorsements and campaign appearances across the country, but the candidates they supported could not emulate the kind of success that propelled Ocasio-Cortez to progressive rockstar status.
The far left policies that drove them to victory in their respective districts remain politically perilous in less urban areas. The candidates they supported ran unapologetically, no holds barred progressive campaigns that promoted ideas like “Medicare for all” and abolishing ICE. When Democratic candidates like Deb Haaland in CD-1 share the same stale ideas in a moderate district that voted for Governor Susana Martinez and Mayor Richard Berry twice, it shows that there is an opening for a formidable Republican challenger. Wyatt Bertsch covered this well in his most recent piece.
Nancy Pelosi’s campaign event yesterday with Haaland shows they believe the seat is essentially locked up – and barring some miracle it is – but notice how the San Francisco liberal didn’t pay Xochitl Torres Small a visit down south to a district that is much less urban…
Democratic enthusiasm advantage is clear
Without a doubt the current political environment favors Democrats and last night’s results further confirmed the trend: Democratic energy is palpable and it is the reason they are consistently over performing their 2016 numbers by double digits.
This is exactly why Republicans are concerned of the down ballot effect that is expected to hurt GOP candidates in state legislative races. For the NM GOP, it is now really a question of not if but how many seats in the Roundhouse they are going to lose come November.
Republicans running in competitive districts against well-funded Democrats are in trouble
The GOP brought all the tools in their arsenal to hold on to the Ohio 12th Congressional district last night: national Republican groups collectively spent over $4 million to support their candidate. Obviously not every GOP Congressional candidate can expect that level of outside support, so for races that are relatively competitive and where the Democratic candidate is well-funded (I’m looking at you CD-2) the chances for a Republican victory is reduced.
While NM CD-2 is rated “Lean Republican” by The Cook Political Report (which is a more competitive rating than Roll Call and CNN who both rank the race “Likely Republican”), I still don’t think that overall rating conveys some the political nuances in play; for example I believe it over estimates the GOP performance given the lack of a Steve Pearce incumbency.
Notably, the Torres Small campaign strategy – namely, a young candidate with the energy to campaign hard, appealing to moderates, all without demonizing Trump – is identical to the winning strategy that Democrat Conor Lamb used to win a special election in Pennsylvania earlier this year (Trump won both districts by around 20 points in 2016).
Corry Bliss, the executive director of Congressional Leadership Fund (the top House GOP super PAC), remarked that in the Ohio race they ran “an aggressive turnout operation … ultimately knocking on over 500,000 doors across the district.”
Yvette Herrell is clearly hoping some of that help is headed her way. But as Bliss also commented, “any Republican running for Congress getting vastly outraised by an opponent needs to start raising more money.” Unfortunately for Herrell that describes her situation: the most recently available finance reports show Torres Small with an almost 5-to-1 cash advantage (not including the outside help by groups such as the DCCC).
GOP suburban performance is a serious concern
Under Trump, the GOP has seen a serious decline in performance in the suburbs, and the results last night maintained that downward trend.
Ohio Republican Congressional candidate Troy Balderson barely managed to squeak out a win in a district that has been controlled by Republicans for over three decades. Bottom line, the race should not have been this close and the slim margin of victory confirmed that while rural performance remains strong, it is the collapse in suburban support (from women and well-educated voters in particular) that is forcing election outcomes to be closer than they would otherwise.
For Republican candidates in New Mexico, especially those legislative races that include more urban and suburban areas, the warning signs are of particular concern.
Cumulative Trump effect is unclear, though higher turnout is very likely
Right now there is no endorsement more valuable or motivating to the Republican base than explicit support from the president. At the same time, there is nothing more motiving to the Democratic base than opposing him at every turn. How those two dynamics come together will have a big impact on the outcome of races up and down the ballot.
Trump’s polarizing effect is undeniably driving turnout on both sides. But in competitive districts – and especially down ballot races that are less likely to have sophisticated GOTV operations – the combination of increased turnout for Democrats and above average Democratic voter enthusiasm paints a stark picture of an increasingly tough political environment for Republicans.