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Who will take on Martinez in 2014?

Gov. Susana Martinez has seen sky-high approval ratings since handily winning the Republican gubernatorial primary and then defeating top Democratic recruit Diane Denish by a comfortable 53.3 percent to 46.6 percent.

Barring a major scandal in the Martinez administraion between now and election day, no Republican with a real chance of winning will take Martinez on in the primary. There may be a Tea Party type who believes Martinez and the state Republicans haven’t gone far enough (think Cliff Pirtle in 2010 going against Steve Pearce in the 2nd Congressional District race saying Pearce wasn’t conservative enough).

And with Sen. Tom Udall extremely likely to win reelection, top-tier Republicans might be waiting until 2020 for a top-tier statewide race unless they want to take a crack at Attorney General.

But for Democrats? Its an interesting race to look at. Martinez is extremely popular and has massive amounts of money for Jay McCleskey to play around with. It will take a well-funded candidate to take her on.

So far, Attorney General Gary King hopes he will fit that bill and that a big war chest will scare off Democratic primary contenders.

King also has the political pedigree. His father, Bruce King, served three terms as New Mexico’s governor.

King shouldn’t expect a clear path, even with his $160,000 in the bank before the calendar even turns to 2013.

The most often mentioned candidate is Albuquerque attorney Sam Bregman. Bregman hasn’t held elected office since being an Albuquerque city councilor from 1995 to 1999, but he is a prominent attorney with a lot of money. And he is a fierce critic of hte Martinez administration, even going so far as to subpoena Martinez in a wrongful-termination case. Bregman very narrowly lost the race to head the Democratic Party of New Mexico to Javier Gonzalez.

An outside-shot is State Auditor Hector Balderas. Balderas has earned kudos from both Democrats and Republicans in exposing fiscal mismanagement in government entities. Balderas has transformed the Auditor’s office into a more-aggressive entity. He has a statewide profile and ran a spirited, albeit longshot, campaign against Martin Heinrich in the U.S. Senate primary.

Balderas is still young — only 39 — and many consider him to be looking at replacing King in the AG’s office instead of making a run at the governor’s office.

Two other Democratic candidates with smaller profiles are also looking at possible runs. Several Democrats and those in the know mentioned Chuck Higgins, the owner of C.G. Higgins Confections, as a candidate who would be willing to take on Martinez. By the next filing deadline, Higgins may already have a campaign committee with the Secretary of State.

Ambassador Joe Wilson is another name that is mentioned, and one that would get a lot of national attention — and potentially national money — in the race. Wilson was in the center of the Plame-gate where his wife, Valerie Plame, was outed a s a CIA agent in apparent retaliation for writing a New York Times op-ed disputing the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Wilson has been active in the Democratic Party in recent years, being the guest of honor at a number of fundraisers and donating money to Democratic candidates. If Wilson does jump in the race, he could get lots of money from Democrats around the country, tapping into the anti-George W. Bush sentiment that many still hold.

Another long shot candidate that has been mentioned, though perhaps not very seriously, is Senate Majority Leader Michale Sanchez. He survived a brutal state Senate race, but a gubernatorial race would be on another level of negative ads aimed at him.

In this week’s Weekly Word podcast, reporter Peter St. Cyr said he did not believe Sanchez would run because of the toll the state Senate race had on his family.

It is still, obviously, very early and potential candidates could change their mind if they don’t get enough big-number fundraising commitments. In the same vein, Democrats who aren’t seen as running for governor could reverse course and make a run at the Democratic nomination.

Written by

Matthew Reichbach has blogged about New Mexico politics since 2006. Matthew was a co-founder of New Mexico FBIHOP with his brother and part of the original hirings at the groundbreaking website the New Mexico Independent. Matthew has covered events such as the Democratic National Convention and Netroots Nation. In addition to politics, Matthew is an avid sports fan, especially of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and TV fan.

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