The real action this year appears to be in the state House and Senate in New Mexico. Republicans have high hopes of doing something they haven’t done in decades — taking control of the state House. Republicans know they cannot take the state Senate, but hope to narrow the Democratic advantage in that chamber.
On to the races to watch, after speaking with a number of people involved in watching the campaigns and helping on one side or the other in the campaigns:
Every four years, the entire state Senate is up for reelection. This is that year and it is after redistricting, so there will be some interesting races for either open seats or to knock off top Senators.
Senate District 29
The marquee matchup is in Senate District 29, where Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez is being challenged by State Rep. David Chavez. Chavez said that he was retiring to concentrate on his law practice — but then changed his mind. The big amount of money that Republican-aligned PACs have been spending going after Sanchez must have helped Chavez’s decision.
Even with the money spent by Jay McCleskey and his team going after Sanchez on a number of issues, knocking off Sanchez will be easier said than done.
Senate District 32
Another race with big money pouring into it from Republicans is the Senate District 32 race with Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings being challenged by Republican Cliff Pirtle. The race got an extra jolt when an audio tape of Martinez’s chief of staff Keith Gardner insulting both Roswell and Jennings himself aired. Jennings has served in the legislature since 1979, and has been popular despite being a Democrat in a deep red area; Jennings is as conservative as they come, and even has courted the Tea Party.
Pirtle is a 27-year old Tea Party activist whose political experience comes down to his recent primary win and his primary loss to Steve Pearce in the 2010 2nd Congressional District Republican primary. Pirtle tried to run to the right of Pearce in that primary, which shows just how far-right his politics are. But, like Chavez, he has lots of money and the political team of Gov. Susana Martinez to help him.
Senate District 9
Another case of an incumbent Democratic Senator facing a Republican state Sen. trying to step up to the higher chamber. In this case, it is insurance agent John Sapien against general contractor David Doyle. This is one of the Senate races that the Republicans are most bullish about and at this time, it is anyone’s race. The race will be one that could come down to a handful of votes and leave election watchers up late.
Senate District 35
Sen. John Arthur Smith is the Senate Finance Committee chairman and one of the most powerful voices in the Senate on the budget. And he is getting a stiff challenge from Republican Russell Allen. Allen has a lot of contacts among Republicans in the area — he is the chairman of the Republican Party of Doña Ana County. But Smith bucks the Democratic Party on many votes and is the most conservative Democrat in the chamber. And the normal attacks that Republicans have been using on Democrats shouldn’t work — as Smith has voted for many of Martinez’s initiatives.
Senate District 15
Another potential pickup for Republicans is the seat previously held by Tim Eichenberg. Eichenberg decided not to run after winning the Democratic primary where he was unopposed. The Bernalillo County Democratic Central Committee selected lawyer Daniel Ivey-Soto to take on former state Sen. H. Diane Snyder. Snyder lost her seat in 2008 to Eichenberg in the Democratic wave of 2008 and hopes to regain the seat she first won in 2000 and held in 2004.
Senate District 17
Another example of a Republican hoping to regain his seat is former Senator Shannon Robinson against Tim Keller. This is the second time the two have faced off, but there is a twist this time — last time they faced off in the Democratic primary in 2008, where Keller defeated the incumbent. This time, Robinson has switched parties and decided to run as a Republican. Robinson’s past scandals continue to haunt him, however, and Keller has been seen as a solid state Senator who has taken on corruption.
Senate District 21
One seat that Democrats will have a problem holding is in Senate District 21 where incumbent Lisa Curtis faces Republican Mark Moores. Curtis is the president of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and was somewhat controversially appointed to the state Senate when the Bernalillo and Sandoval County Commissions offered up Curtis as the only choice to replace Kent Cravens. Cravens resigned from the state House to become a lobbyist. Martinez reluctantly appointed Curtis. Moores is the executive director, New Mexico Dental Association.
Senate District 18
A potential sleeper race is the race to replace Republican Mark Boitano. Attorney Lisa Torraco has the advantage in replacing her fellow Republican, Mark Boitano. However, some watching the state Senate races have said if enough swings towards Democrats, that this is a race that Democrats could win with Bill Tallman.
The House of Representatives is closer — so a small gain by either the Democratic Party or Republican Party could have immense consequences. A small move towards Democrats could turn swing votes further to the left. And, obviously, a small move towards the Republican Party would move the chamber into Republican hands.
House District 15
One of the more high profile House races features Albuquerque firefighter Emily Kane and Chris Saucedo. This race is the replace Rep. Bill O’Neill. O’Neill won a Democratic primary to replace Sen. Dede Feldman and faces no Republican opposition in Senate District 13. But Republicans hold hopes of flipping this seat and have been going hard after Kane. Kane’s case is interesting because Albuquerque city employees are barred from seeking elected office; Kanes says this is unconstitutional. Kane faces Republican lawyer Chris Saucedo.
House District 23
This is one of the many races that pits a Martinez-backed Republican against a Democrat. In this case, it is Paul A. Pacheco, the controversial former police officer, who has the backing of Martinez in the race to replace David Doyle as Doyle attempts to make a move to the Senate. Pacheco is facing Marci Blaze, who is campaigning hard to move the seat into the Democratic column.
House District 36
The three-way race between Democrat-turned-independent Andy Nuñez, Democrat Phillip Archuleta and Republican Mike Tellez will be an interesting one. Nuñez has been the incumbent since 2001. Archuleta is the LULAC state director and Mike Tellez says that he is in the restaurant industry and he failed to knock off Nuñez back in 2008. Nuñez’s main path to victory is peeling off enough votes from Republicans and Democrats and banking on his name ID as an incumbent to overcome a lack of party allegiance.
House District 68
The new district on Albuquerque’s westside has no incumbent, so that automatically makes it an interesting race. Realtor Monica Youngblood won the Republican nomination and realtor Eloise Gift won the Democratic nomination. Youngblood is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party and the district’s demographics seem to favor a Republican. This is a race Republicans must win if they want any hope of winning the House (the district was moved from northern New Mexico).
House District 37
Rep. Terry McMillan was one of the Republicans who was aided by the Republican wave of 2010, narrowly defeating Jeff Steinborn (who is now running for House in District 35) in the general election. McMillan is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) and faces political novice Joanne Ferrary who was a consultant and employee for the state Department of Transportation.
House District 7
The 7th House District race will be interesting. David Chavez is leaving this seat to run for state Senate against the Senate Majority Leader. And the man he beat in 2010, Democratic businessman Andrew Barreras, is looking to rejoin the state House. He faces Kelly Fajardo, the owner of a social media and web services consulting company. This is a good chance for the Democrats to pick up a seat in the House.
House District 63
One of the closest races in the House could be the race between former teacher, principal and U.S. Navy veteran George Dodge Jr. and a Republican challenger in the form of businessman/farmer Steve Hanson. Dodge was the only new Democrat to win a state House seat in 2010 and if he wants to stay in the House will have to survive a very close race.
House District 38
Former Silver City mayor Terry Fortenberry is taking on incumbent Dianne Hamilton in the southern New Mexico district. Hamilton is the Republican who has carried voter ID legislation; Fortenberry is the Democratic candidate that is most likely to knock off Hamilton, who has served in the state House since 1999. In a big Democratic year, Hamilton could be one of the Republican casualties who doesn’t return to the Roundhouse.
District number updated. Thanks to commenter for the catch.
House District 53
Freshman Rep. Ricky Little is getting a stiff challenge in his first reelection campaign — a sequel against Nathan Cote. Cote served two terms in the southern New Mexico district and Democrats are bullish on his chances of again joining the larger chamber in Santa Fe. Little has had questions about his residence and, like many Republican freshmen, no longer has the big Republican wind behind his back as he did in 2010.
House District 4
Democrat Ray Begaye is likely safe. But Republicans have been buoyed by recent reports that Begaye submitted false reimbursement vouchers to the state to pay for a conference he attended in December 2010. The office of the Attorney General is investigating. Begaye faces Sharon Clahchischilliage in the general election. If the Democrats lose this seat, it would be a serious blow to their hopes of keeping the House.
House District 30
There was something unusual last week; Republicans starting digging up old videos of Mary Ellen Broderick online. Broderick has lots of videos online and some are unusual. But the fact that Republicans are even looking at opposition research on the blogger shows that House District 30 could possibly be a dark horse race.