The first benchmark in the 2016 presidential contest could actually come later this year in New Mexico. While it is still very uncertain as to who will be the next Republican presidential nominee, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez may already own the inside track to becoming the GOP’s Vice Presidential nominee. Assuming she’s re-elected this year, it’s hard to imagine a female Hispanic governor from one of three legitimate swing states – at a time when Republicans are in desperate need of increased support from women, Hispanics, and voters from marginal political states – not being on everyone’s short list for the national ticket’s number two position.
Susana Martinez, then the four-term Dona Ana County District Attorney – a Mexican border county of just 216,000 residents – was elected governor in the Republican landslide year of 2010. Though a late March Public Policy Polling survey (March 20-23; 674 registered New Mexico voters) projected Attorney General Gary King (D) to be within only five points of the governor (42-47 percent), a new poll already suggests the governor is pulling away. King is also an inherently weak candidate.
A poll sponsored by the New Mexico Republican Party from BWD Global (June 10-11, but released 6/27; 1,526 likely New Mexico voters) gives the governor a 53-40 percent lead, which is probably a more accurate depiction of the race’s status than PPP’s closer survey.
Publicly called “the worst attorney general in the history of New Mexico” by his own Democratic Party state chairman, a comment chairman San Bregman now says, “in hindsight (that) was not the most eloquent thing to say.” King has been roundly criticized in the media and by many of his own fellow Democrats for poorly handling some high profile public corruption cases, among other things.
King’s best political asset is his name ID. In addition to serving two terms as state attorney general and six terms in the state legislature, and also losing a 2004 race for Congress, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is the son of Bruce King (D) who served as governor in three non-consecutive four-year terms beginning with the election of 1970. In those years, New Mexico limited its governors to one term in office. Ironically, the first time he was eligible to run as a sitting incumbent, the Republican landslide year of 1994, he went down to his first defeat at the hands of GOP nominee Gary Johnson. Gov. King is also the last politician to defeat former Sen. Pete Domenici (R). The two met in the 1970 governor’s race, a contest King won. Two years later, Domenici was elected to the Senate in what would be the first of six, six-year terms.
Still, King’s name ID was not an overwhelming asset in the June Democratic primary. Though he was nominated in the June primary, he managed to score only 35 percent of the vote against four primary candidates. This, after he had placed last at the party state party convention earlier in the year.
With Gov. Martinez seemingly in the political driver’s seat, expect her national presence to be felt quickly during the 2016 open presidential race. She is likely someone from whom the country will be hearing a great deal in the next few years.
Attached are two ads, one from the Republican Governors Association above, and the other from the King campaign below. The message and ad quality suggest that King has a large number of obstacles that he must overcome if he is to upset Gov. Martinez.