With nearly 1.2 million registered voters in the state of New Mexico, it would take a statewide candidate 833 days working around the clock to spend a personal minute with each one of them.
And you wonder why candidates are announcing more than a year (and in some cases, more than two) ahead of the 2010 election.
Of course, no candidate expects face time with every voter, nor is it needed. Approximately 42 percent of registered New Mexico voters cast ballots in the 2006 midterm general election—the last comparable, non-presidential gubernatorial election.
But in a large, spread-out state, reaching voters—even indirectly—takes time and money, and the money takes time to raise. A candidate can have a recognizable name, an impressive record and unchappable baby-kissing lips, but unless he (or this time, more likely "she") builds momentum early, the candidate won't cross the finish line with enough of a percentage to hold his or her head high.
In fact, one early bird candidate already dropped out: former New Mexico National Guard Brig. Gen. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Zanetti, who told the press his decision was based on "family concerns."
Zanetti likely won't be the first candidate to come and go in the next year, proving that the top quality a successful public official needs to finish the race is endurance.
That's where you, the voter, come in. Like the friends and family of runners who stand by the sidelines along the marathon route with paper cups of Gatorade outstretched, only supporters can keep their candidates from collapsing, whether that's through fundraising, block walking or simply by signing up for Facebook updates.
Here's the skinny on the candidates who are trying to recruit you early for their teams.
How to Read this Guide
Status: This guide covers the top three races in which there is currently competition and an expected primary race in both major parties: US representative for the 3rd Congressional District, governor and lieutenant governor. The candidates evaluated in this guide have either announced their intentions to run, formed exploratory committees (a technical term for testing the waters), begun hiring staff, are more than 75 percent certain they are running or are incumbents. Although the political sphere is filled with other rumored candidates, these are not included—with one exception: Former US Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican, has expressed strong interest in a bid for governor but has taken no official action. She is, nonetheless, generally considered the frontrunner in the Republican primary.
War Chest: A combination of the candidates’ cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance statements, as well as any money the candidates claim to have raised thus far for the race.
The Political Scale: SFR identified five Republican and five Democratic wonks to weigh in on how conservative or progressive each of the candidates is on a scale of 1 to 5. SFR granted the panel anonymity in order to elicit candid responses.
1. Democrat in Name Only/Republican in Name Only
2. Moderate or “Bluedog” Democrat/Moderate Republican
3. Straight Party Line
4. True Progressive/True Conservative
5. Too Far Left/Right to Be Electable
Shadiness Percentile: SFR polled seven political journalists and editors from around the state for their impressions of the perceived integrity of each candidate. Journalists considered the candidates’ records on ethics reform, their campaign donors and close associates, conflicts of interest, and any scandals with which they may have been involved or implicated. The journalists graded each candidate on a scale of 1 to 100, which SFR then averaged. The journalists in this poll would only participate on condition of anonymity.
Pollster Prediction: Veteran political analyst Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., hasn’t polled any of the races yet, but he does have some strong inclinations about the directions they might take and provides his early predictions for each race. Research & Polling Inc. regularly conducts polls on politics and public policy for the Albuquerque Journal, and Sanderoff is a political analyst for KOAT TV Channel 7.
US House of Representatives, 3rd Congressional District
There are nearly 350,000 voters in New Mexico’s 3rd District, which includes the northernmost third of the state (minus most of Bernalillo County), plus a sliver of eastern New Mexico. Sixty percent of those voters are Democrats, which explains why both the state and national Republican Party invested very little money in the 2008 race.
With the exception of Republican Bill Redmond (1997-1999), who won the seat in a three-way race in a special election, 3rd District congressmen tend to hold on to their seats—Richardson (1983-1997), Tom Udall (1999-2008)—before moving up the political ladder. Former Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Luján won the seat, which became open when Udall ran for the US Senate last year, after besting five other candidates in the Democratic primary and crushing Republican Dan East (who is considering a second run) in the general election. Congressmen are paid $174,000 per year.
Ben Ray Luján (D)
If there’s a disconnect between New Mexico’s traditional “patron” politics of cronyism and Obama’s politics of change, Luján may be the missing link. He is his father’s son, and his father, House Speaker Ben Luján, is still one of the most powerful and old-school fixtures of New Mexico politics. By most standards, northern New Mexico’s freshman congressman has exceeded liberal expectations, particularly on renewable energy, through his seat on the House Committee on Science and Technology. And no one is complaining about New Mexico not receiving enough federal money (he claims $240 million in July alone for military and economic stimulus), though his opponents may use such figures against him as the nation’s debt swells.
The War Chest: $159,965 cash on hand as of June 30. In the first six months of 2009, Luján pulled in $289,000 in contributions, of which 56 percent came from political action committees, including those representing telecommunications, energy and labor interests. The rest were from individuals. Luján also has $127,000 in campaign debt.
The Political Scale: 3.6 = True Progressive. Based on his loud support for clean energy, health care reform and general loyalty to the Obama dogma, Democrats say Luján is emerging as a flag bearer for the new, true progressive movement.
Shady Percentile: 46.7% shady. While Luján has generally kept his nose clean in DC, his bloodline connection to old-school New Mexico politics keeps journalists wary. For example, they still wonder what deals went down behind-the-scenes that helped Luján win the Democratic primary. And while Luján has followed Obama’s lead and sworn off lobbyist contributions (though he still takes PAC money), Luján Sr. continues to accept thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations and interest groups, particularly those representing labor, casinos, energy and telecommunications.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@repbenraylujan), benrlujan.com
Adam Kokesh (R)
If Ron Paul were 50 years younger, ripped, handsome and a Marine veteran of the Fallujah campaign in Iraq, he’d be Adam Kokesh. In other words, Kokesh is positioned to seize the netroots national support of the Libertarian, Tea Party and 9.11 Truth movements. Horses don’t get much darker, but winning for Kokesh isn’t necessarily defined as an electoral victory. Paul will soon retire and Kokesh is well positioned to assume the Libertarian mantle. An anti-war activist, Kokesh says his main beef with Luján is the incumbent’s vote to continue funding the war, but ultimately Luján’s support for Obama’s economic strategy may motivate an already agitated Republican base.
The War Chest: $60,000 according to his website, one-third of which was raised during his Independence Day “money bomb.” Small donors, many from out of state, fuel his campaign.
The Political Scale: 4.2 = True Conservative. Kokesh’ rating as a true conservative illustrates the extent to which the anti-tax “Tea Party” movement is coming to dominate Republican philosophy. A year ago, he might have been rated too Libertarian to be elected due to his extreme anti-war stance.
Shady Percentile: 24.3% shady. Only half of the journalists polled felt familiar enough with Kokesh to evaluate his shadiness, but those that did expressed the opinion that, as a political outsider, Kokesh is free of the ethical baggage associated with New Mexico politics.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@adamkokesh), kokeshforcongress.com, iPhone app
Pollster Prediction: “The 3rd Congressional District heavily favors the Democrat and when there’s a Democratic incumbent, that further amplifies the lopsided nature of the race,” Sanderoff says. “As far as I can tell, [Luján] is staying out of trouble and working the district and, to boot, we’re still in a situation where the Republicans haven’t unified their message…Great odds in favor of Ben Luján.”
The governor appoints thousands of individuals to hundreds of boards, agencies and departments that administrate everything from roads to prisons to health care. He sets the legislative agenda in even-numbered years and special sessions, he has the ability to deploy the national guard and, ultimately, shoulders the blame if anything goes wrong on his watch. We say “he” not because it’s convenient, but because, as far as anyone can remember or has researched, a female has never before run for governor. Party-wise, it could go either way: New Mexico voters have not consecutively elected two governors from the same party in more than 25 years. The governor is paid $110,000 per year.
Diane Denish (D)
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is the hands-down frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the governor’s race, which is why the Republican Party began running attack ads 17 months before the general election.
New Mexicans also previewed a Denish administration when she assembled a cast of hundreds—including New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez and Santa Fe Mayor David Coss—to populate her transition team back when Richardson was nominated for commerce secretary and it looked like she’d be taking over.
Denish’s administration has been marked by a focus on youth and family issues (Denish chairs the New Mexico Children’s Cabinet) but has also had a business and economic theme, with a recent emphasis on economic development and predatory lending. Denish’s roots in the conservative town of Hobbs offset her progressive leanings, which might otherwise be seen as too liberal for a statewide race.
The War Chest: $2.2 million as of July 2009, $512,000 of which was raised in the last three months. Denish has received tens of thousands from special interests and had to donate thousands to charity from contractors involved in the New Mexico housing authority scandal.
The Political Scale: 3.2 = Party Line. To an extent, Denish defines the party line, having led the delegation to the Democratic National Convention. But she has been considered an ally by the Legislature’s progressive wing and a guaranteed vote in favor of liberal cornerstones such as domestic partnerships and health care.
Shady Percentile: 32.6% shady. Journalists acknowledge Denish as a champion of ethics reform, but also say allegations of pay-to-play impropriety against her former running
mate Bill Richardson may have tainted her by association.
On the Web: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, dianedenish.com
Michael Sanchez (D)
Status: Exploratory committee
A state senator representing Belen since 1992, current majority floor leader and a lawyer, Sanchez would have to twist arms pretty hard and hold a lot of legislation hostage in order to undermine Denish’s widespread Democratic support. Further, some question his enthusiasm for the race: He announced his exploratory committee on Facebook and has been mum ever since. Progressive legislators consider Sanchez a moderate, even though Sanchez has leaned further to the left on social issues, defending domestic partnerships and leading the floor debate on the death penalty.
The War Chest: $59,000 according to his May 2009 annual report. In 2008, he raised $4,000, half of which came from ConocoPhilips.
The Political Scale: 2.5 = Moderate to Party Line. Sanchez isn’t considered as moderate as the rest of the Democratic Senate leadership, but in order to lead the Democratic caucus, he bridges the factions of his party.
Shady Percentile: 48.1% shady. Journalists cite Sanchez’ resistance to ethics reform—particularly webcasting and open conference committees—and note that his brother, former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, is a powerful lobbyist.
On the Web: Facebook
Allen Weh (R)
Status: Exploratory committee
A decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf, Somalia and Iraq wars, Weh’s service record is impeccable. His political record, not so much: As state party chairman (2004-2008), Weh was tied up in the US attorney scandal for complaining personally to Karl Rove about then US Attorney David Iglesias. Of course, Rove allegiance could be an asset, along with the other connections he’s made with the national Republican leadership. Nonetheless, New Mexico’s transformation from reddish to true blue on his watch could be a liability in the Republican primary.
The War Chest: Weh will not file his first report until Oct. 13.
The Political Scale: 3.4 = Party Line. As a recent party chairman, it’s only natural that Weh’s politics align with the statewide agenda.
Shady Percentile: 45.8% shady. Journalists indicate Weh’s involvement in the US attorney scandal as a top factor for his shadiness rating.
On the Web: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (@allenweh2010), YouTube, allenweh2010.com
Susana Martinez (R)
The 3rd Judicial District attorney isn’t easy to nail down: Susana Martinez began her career as a Democrat and switched to a Republican several years ago, but has worked well and collected the support of many Democrats in her district. The Doña Ana County prosecutor’s most prominent case is that of Baby Brianna, the infant beaten and raped by her family—Martinez secured maximum sentences for the abusers. District attorneys, unlike legislators, generally play their positions close to their chests, so Martinez has a long way to go in introducing herself to the voters on issues outside of criminal justice.
The War Chest: Martinez has $3,777, according to her December 2008 campaign finance report.
The Political Scale: 3 = Undefinable. Republicans don’t know what to make of Martinez. Some rank her as a Republican only in name because of her Democratic support. Others see her as a member of the extreme crowd—after all, she was a prominent member of the “Palin Truth Squad,” set up to deflect criticism of the unpredictable vice presidential candidate.
Shady Percentile: 23.4% shady. Several of the journalists polled aren’t familiar enough with Martinez to evaluate her, but those who are cite her vigilance in prosecuting public officials, including a county clerk and a magistrate judge.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@susana2010)
Janice Arnold-Jones (R)
Status: Exploratory committee
Many wonder why Arnold-Jones remains a member of the Republican Party since she always seems at odds with the leadership—whether she’s accusing the party of threatening her if she ran for Congress against Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White or breaking from her party on issues such as the death penalty. Arnold-Jones’ time in the House of Representatives has been more about fighting for competence, technology and transparency than specific items in the Republican platform.
The War Chest: $7,000 according to her May 2009 annual report. She raised $12,000 in the last year, largely from special interests and corporations, but in denominations no larger than $500.
The Political Scale: 2.7 = Undefinable. Similar to Martinez, Arnold-Jones’ score is an average of extremes: Some see her politics as non-partisan, while others feel she’s too much of a loose cannon to be taken seriously.
Shady Percentile: 13.8% shady. Journalists almost universally respect Arnold-Jones for her civil disobedience when she began webcasting committee hearings despite objections voiced by the Democratic leadership.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@janice4governor), janicearnoldjones.com
Doug Turner (R)
Status: Hired staff
The big question for public relations master Doug Turner is whether he can repeat his efforts in 1994 and 1998 when, as state campaign director and later campaign manager, he orchestrated Gov. Gary Johnson’s consecutive victories…or if he’ll repeat the massive failure of Steve Forbes’ 2000 presidential bid, for which he served as deputy political director. Richardson’s administration introduced international experience into state politics, and Turner holds advanced degrees in international relations, sits on various foreign-policy think tanks and boards, and lived in Japan. His PR firm has trademarked the phrase “strategies and ideas that win.”
The War Chest: Turner will not file his first report until Oct. 13.
The Political Scale: 1.6 = Barely Republican.
Shady Percentile: 50% shady. Journalists tend not to trust public relations professionals (aka “flacks”) and some claim negative personal experiences dealing with Turner’s firm, which has represented clients from Uranium Resources Inc. to the city of Albuquerque.
On the Web: No campaign web presence as of deadline
Heather Wilson (R)
Status: “Considering” a run, according to the Associated Press, but has taken no action
A Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate in international relations, Air Force veteran, former member of the National Security Council, former Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, and five-time US representative, Wilson had wanted to add “senator” to her résumé in 2008.
Even though Sen. Pete Domenici endorsed her in the Republican primary for the seat he gave up, she was beaten narrowly by Rep. Steve Pearce, who attacked her for being a moderate Republican. Wilson’s congressional career has been a mixed bag: She made a big deal out of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl, challenged Donald Rumsfeld on his disdain of the Geneva Conventions and was implicated in the firing of US Attorney David Iglesias.
Since leaving office, Wilson has been training politicians in post-conflict nations in Africa on communications and constituent-services techniques.
The War Chest: Wilson’s Senate campaign has $7,502 on hand as of December 2008, none of which she can use in a state race.
The Political Scale: 2.7 = Party Line. Wilson’s independent and moderate streak worked for her when she was running a congressional race in the 1st District, but worked against her in the statewide primary for US Senate. Ultimately, her voting record shows her more closely aligned with the party line than her reputation warrants.
Shady Percentile: 31% shady. Journalists see her involvement in the US Attorney scandal as merely a “smudge,” but did express concern that Wilson became less transparent (read: less available) in her last years in Congress.
On the Web: Facebook
Pollster Prediction: “Diane Denish is the frontrunner and could win comfortably,” Sanderoff says. “She’s got the name recognition…Michael Sanchez would be at a terrible disadvantage with fundraising…On the Republican side, all eyes are on Heather Wilson and what she decides to do will dictate the nature of the race. If she runs, I believe many of the Republicans who are strongly considering running will think twice. If she should decide not to run, then I could see, conceivably, all those people will stay in, and perhaps even more will enter.”
The lieutenant governor doesn’t have much executive power. The position has a budget to craft policy and form task forces. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate (with a tie-breaker-only vote) and also assumes some of the governor’s duties when he’s out of state (for an extra $250 per day), which can happen quite frequently, as Richardson’s second term has proved. The “Guv Light” is typically a stepping-stone office and politicians who run for it frequently have higher ambitions. The lieutenant governor is paid $85,000 per year.
Lawrence Rael (D)
Status: 85% sure
Of the current pool of candidates, Rael has the most administrative experience, serving for more than a decade as the chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque. As the current executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, Rael is well-known among government insiders in Bernalillo, Valencia, Torrance, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties, and is well-versed in water, development and transportation issues. MRCOG is a relatively obscure agency among the New Mexico public; its most prominent responsibility is the Rail Runner Express.
The War Chest: Rael will not make his first report until Oct. 13 if he forms a campaign or exploratory committee.
The Political Scale: 3.3 = Party Line. Democrats say they don’t know much about Rael but, based on his executive record working with a diverse group of officials on various elected bodies, believe he isn’t one to rock the boat.
Shady Percentile: 39.5% shady. Again, few journalists are familiar enough with Rael’s political record to rate his shadiness, but those who are give varying opinions. Some say he’s as clean as a politician gets, while others wonder how close his work with the New Mexico Department of Transportation brought him to pay-to-play allegations regarding certain state transportation projects.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@lawrencerael)
Greg Solano (D)
Solano is the ultimate early bird—he announced his candidacy in 2007. Formerly a gang unit officer with the Santa Fe Police Department, Solano is serving his second term as Santa Fe County sheriff. Highlights from his time as sheriff include his push to de-privatize the jail and to implement a DWI vehicle-seizure program. Term-limited, Solano has hopes of attaining higher office. Solano is net savvy (he’s known as the “Blogging Sheriff”) which may be one of his strongest assets but also an Achilles’ heel as critics questions how he has time to Tweet.
The War Chest: $3,000, Solano tells SFR. His first report is due Oct. 13.
The Political Scale: 3.3 = Party Line. A generally progressive candidate, Solano also is one of the few sheriffs nationwide to support a medical cannabis program and to call publicly for “compassionate” immigration reform.
Shady Percentile: 21.1% shady. Journalists appreciate Solano’s blogging and open relationship with the press, and note that he is the first lieutenant governor candidate to offer a position paper on ethics reform.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@gregsolano), solanoltgov.com, solanoltgov.blogspot.com
Linda Lopez (D)
A single mother, Linda Lopez’ 12 years as a state senator have been marked by a focus on education and children’s issues, though that may be overshadowed by her recent sponsorship of a bill to create a $408 million tax increment development district to fund SunCal, New Mexico’s controversial 57,000-acre project in west Albuquerque. The bill narrowly failed in the House despite an enormous lobby effort by the developers. Lopez chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which was dubbed “where ethics bills go to die” by the nonprofit good-government website Clearly New Mexico.
The War Chest: $11,454, according to her May 2009 annual report. She raised only $1,000 in the previous months, all from the Realtors Association of New Mexico Political Action Committee.
The Political Scale: 2.6. = Party Line. Although Lopez is attempting to go round-for-round with state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino on progressive issues, Democrats note that Lopez stood by conservative Democrat Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings when Senate progressives attempted to topple his reign.
Shady Percentile: 42.1% shady. The journalists polled blame Lopez’ leadership as Rules Committee chair for stalling ethics legislation.
On the Web: Facebook
Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D)
Ortiz y Pino is an Albuquerque social worker, a columnist for the Alibi (and formerly for SFR) and one of the most liberal members of the state Senate. In policy and politics, he’s much like Denish in that he works on non-partisan family and children’s issues but has been very vocal with his far-left positions on renewable energy, LGBT rights and nuclear proliferation.
The War Chest: $3,500 according to his May 2009 annual report. He raised $1,000 in the previous year from the Realtors Association of New Mexico PAC and Motorola.
The Political Scale: 4 = True Progressive. Democrats say Ortiz y Pino is as liberal as it gets.
Shady Percentile: 19.4% shady. Journalists characterize Ortiz y Pino as a crusader for good governance—perhaps to the point of naivety.
On the Web: Facebook, Twitter (@jerryfornm), geraldortizypino.com
JR Damron (R)
Status: 75 percent sure
A Santa Fe-based physician, Damron ran for governor in 2006 but quit unexpectedly shortly after he won the Republican primary. At the time, he told reporters he was convinced by party officials that he wasn’t aggressive enough for the race against Richardson and publicly denied rumors that “family issues” contributed to his dropping out. Damron is treasurer of the Santa Fe County Republican Party and was a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention, but he is still, overall, a relatively unknown figure in statewide politics.
The War Chest: $400 from his gubernatorial campaign, which has been inactive since 2006.
The Political Scale: 2.8 = Party Line. Damron was conservative enough to win the primary in 2006, but may be considered a moderate simply because he hails from Santa Fe.
Shady Percentile: 38.3% shady. Journalists say they are still suspicious of the conflicting stories behind Damron’s decision to drop out in 2006.
On the Web: No web presence as of deadline.
Pollster Prediction: “I think none of the
lieutenant governor prospective candidates are well-known enough,” Sanderoff says. “If it stays like this, look for an anglo name to get in there and perhaps have a very good chance of winning [in the primary].”
WEB EXTRA: SecState race on next page!
Secretary of State
The Secretary of State manages a wide variety of documents, from Uniform Commercial Code filings to the Governor’s executive orders, but the office’s main task is to coordinate elections and administrate the campaign finance and ethics system.
Mary Herrera (D)
Herrera regularly receives accolades from national democratic leadership organizations and she's currently the president of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Her government career began with a typist job with Bernalillo County and she is now the most senior elected Latina in the country. Her term as Secretary of State, however, has been marked by problems when it comes to the state's incomplete campaign-finance database and inability to solve major problems with the election machine system. Herrera’s office also has come under criticism for the honor-system approach it’s taken to campaign finance violations, though she did act quickly to fine fellow Democrat Jerome Block Jr. for misusing public campaign money. The Secretary of State is paid $85,000 per year.
The War Chest: $20,000. She raised $4,000 in the last 12 months, mostly from individual donors.
The Political Scale: 3=Party Line. As Bernalillo county clerk and secretary of state, Herrera hasn’t had to confront divisive issues within the Democratic Party, but is largely seen as a party loyalist.
Shady Percentile: 55.8% shady. Journalists struggled to evaluate Herrera’s “shadiness,” asking often whether there is “a difference between corruption and complete ineptitude.”
On the Web: No online campaign presence.
Valerie Espinoza (D)
Status: Says she is “75 percent sure” she will run.
Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza is fairly well respected among county clerks and, during the 2008 election, her office successfully managed record early voting with few complaints from the public. Outside of the clerk’s office, Espinoza is an animal-rights advocate and the host of Santa Fe County Today, a public policy show running on Channel 16 (Community Access).
The War Chest: Espinoza has nothing in her war chest, she tells SFR, but plans to loan her campaign $50,000.
The Political Scale: 3.6. Though several Democrats weren’t very familiar with Espinoza, as a Santa Fe official, Espinoza is perceived to lean toward the more progressive side of the spectrum.
Shady Percentile: 37.3% Journalist say they didn’t know much about Espinoza but point to her public statement that, as elections officials, county clerks should not get involved in candidates campaigns. This was in response to the news that Public Regulation Commission candidate Jerome Block Jr. had paid San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez for campaign coordination and paid Maez' band for playing a rally that never actually happened. San Miguel County was the only county Block carried in the primary.
On the Web: No online campaign presence.
Pollster Prediction: Mary Herrera. “That race will come down to fundraising and ability to get your message out,” Sanderoff says. “I guess you’d have to say the early odds would be on Mary because she’s the incumbent, but you can not dismiss Valerie [Espinoza] assuming she runs a great race.”