When Gov. Bill Richardson was running for president, the assumption was that his candidacy would play well in the Southwest because he was the only Democrat from the region. Of course, that didn't pan out. Richardson dropped his bid before Nevada had a chance to vote in its first early election.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee US Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also hopes to play the bolo-tie card, especially in New Mexico. On March 31, McCain began running his first television ad of the general election cycle exclusively in New Mexico, in both English and Spanish. The spot focuses on McCain's pre-Congressional biography, from his high-ranking military ancestors to his infamous stint as a prisoner of war. In the coming weeks, McCain's campaign plans to set up its first New Mexico field office.
"New Mexico is one of the very few states that went from blue to red from 2000 to 2004," Jeff Sadosky, director of regional communications for McCain, says. "But, first and foremost, [McCain] understands the issues that better play in New Mexico are similar to what are in play in Arizona: economic growth, land use, water, both being border states."
So how does McCain actually fare? Here are the factors:
Checks & Balance Sheets
According to federal campaign-finance reports, McCain was out-raised in New Mexico four and five to one by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama respectively. In fact, Obama's campaign raised more in New Mexico than all the Republican presidential candidates combined. With $116,000 so far from New Mexican donors, McCain was even beat by Republican fringe candidate US Rep. Ron Paul, Texas, who pulled in $127,000.
New Mexico generally sees more political money coming into the state than is actually raised locally, New Mexico Republican Party Communications Director Scott Darnell tells SFR.
"We have no illusions for the fact that it's a difficult environment in which to raise a whole lot of money," Darnell says. "That being said, I think the reason that we're seeing such fundraising landmarks being made on the Democrat side is that there's still a race going on. Frankly, starting now as the presumptive nominee, Sen. McCain is going to be raising money at a rapid rate. Certainly when the general election unfolds, that'll be a new race and we'll be able to see more."
Anyone who thinks Obama has the first-time-political-contributor market covered ought to speak to Peter Roll. At 80 years old, the Santa Fe-based investment advisor answered McCain's call to help him catch up with Obama and Clinton. The $1,000 donation to McCain on Valentine's Day was his first in at least 30 years.
"McCain's not my favorite candidate, but I've never had a favorite candidate," Roll tells SFR. "I certainly didn't care for Giuliani, but Romney would've been perfectly acceptable to me."
Roll prefers the Republican's position on the economy, but because McCain is 71 years old, Roll doesn't foresee the Republican pursuing a second term if he wins this year.
With wrinkles, white hair and a memory that recalls Pearl Harbor, McCain is certainly poised to capture a significant chunk of the senior citizen vote. But with the Dems mobilizing record numbers of voters in New Mexico, the old fogies alone won't cut it.
"John McCain is a Republican who can do very well among Hispanics," Sadosky tells SFR. "I think you'll see our campaign reach out to non-traditional Republican voting blocs more so than ever before in the past."
Between McCain's perceived pro-amnesty position on immigration and support of pro-life policies, his campaign hopes to capture the hearts and votes of New Mexico's Latino electorate. However, he also is actively courting Native Americans. As the senator from Arizona, McCain has established strong ties with the state's tribal governments and has an extensive voting record that tops those of his Democratic rivals, both of whom hail from the eastern side of the country.
When the state chairs of the Republican National Committee met in Albuquerque on April 4, progressive blogger Alicia Lueras Moldanado (clearlynewmexico.com) was there to capture the strategic plans presented by McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis. The target demographics, according to Moldanado: "Wal-Mart moms," "Rehab Republicans," youth, Latinos and "Facebook independents."
"I thought it was a bit ridiculous that they were talking about reaching out to these particular targeted groups and the room didn't reflect that at all," Moldanado tells SFR. "In terms of me sitting there in the back of the room kind of looking out, I thought there was an absence of native New Mexicans in the room and an absence of Latinos and young people."
At least until Pennsylvania holds its primary, the New Mexico Democratic Party remains at a disadvantage. Without a single candidate to contrast against McCain, the New Mexico Dems can only launch attacks. But besides press conferences and press releases, there isn't a whole lot the Dems can do at this stage.
"There's no plans for any television advertising [against McCain]," New Mexico Democratic Party Executive Director Josh Geise says. "But besides earned media and the organizing that we do, we had a tremendous turnout at the caucus and we're using that to build our grassroots support."
Geise points to the recent SurveyUSA poll that placed both Clinton and Obama with a 51-45 lead over McCain. Yet Geise agrees with Cook Political Report Analyst Jennifer Duffy's prediction of a hard, tight road ahead.
"I do think [McCain] is probably going to do well in the West, but you have to remember in the last two elections, regardless of who was running, New Mexico hosted two of the closest races in the country," Duffy says. "I can't believe that it won't be as close again."