Michelle Lujan Grisham rolled to an easy victory over two rivals in the Democratic primary for governor Tuesday, and questions about her ties to a company that helped manage New Mexico's high-risk insurance pool appear not to have diminished the broad support she enjoyed before the criticism piled up.
The three-term congresswoman from Albuquerque won 66 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the secretary of state. In an Albuquerque Journal survey published May 27, she had 57 percent approval from likely Democratic voters—compared to 15 percent for former media executive Jeff Apodaca, 9 percent for state Sen. Joe Cervantes and 19 percent undecided.
In the end, Apodaca, who pressed hardest against Lujan Grisham for the money she made from Delta Consulting, even calling on her to drop out of the race, finished second, garnering 22 percent of the vote. Cervantes won 11 percent to finish a distant third in an election that saw turnout numbers statewide reach at least 28 percent—outstripping state totals of 20 percent in the state's last midterm primary election in 2014.
In a conference call with reporters on election night, Lujan Grisham brushed aside Apodaca's criticisms as a "political stunt."
"People rejected it because they know me," says Lujan Grisham, who will face Republican Congressman Steve Pearce of Las Cruces in the November general election. Pearce ran unopposed in his party's primary. That means two sitting members of Congress will battle to succeed Republican Susana Martinez, who is barred from seeking a third term in the governor's office.
Democrat Howie Morales will run against Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes and Libertarian Robin Dunn in the November race for lieutenant governor. With unofficial results showing Morales grabbing 47 percent of votes among Democrats, he easily won election to vie for a position as the next governor's right hand over Rick Miera and Billy Garrett.
Morales, of Silver City, has served two terms in the state Senate and lost a primary battle against Gary King in the governor's race in 2014. He'll run alongside Lujan Grisham, while Garcia Holmes, a retired Albuquerque police officer who last year lost a bid to become mayor of the state's largest city, will fill the bottom of the ticket with Pearce. Dunn joins Bob Walsh on the Libertarian ticket.
Lujan Grisham describes Morales as a "respected expert in public education" and says he will bring "strength and support in the southern part of the state" to the Democratic ticket.
Another closely watched contest was for state auditor. Democrats Brian Colón, who was trounced last year in a bid to be mayor of Albuquerque, and state Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces squared off to face Republican Wayne Johnson, who ran unopposed and as an incumbent. Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Johnson to the position as the state's financial watchdog after Tim Keller left the seat following his victory in the Albuquerque mayor's race.
Colón won the race handily, according to unofficial results, carrying about 63 percent of the vote.
Taking a moment from guests at a celebration in his home, Colón tells SFR he's ready for the next challenge.
"My strategy is the same for the general as it was for the primary, which is I am going to carry a clear message and I am going to outwork my opponent and I am going to rest on Nov. 7," he says.
The former state party chairman says clear mandates from party voters raise all boats. "When you are talking about one candidate in a field of three in the governor's race consolidating 66 percent of the vote, we are going to have a strong ticket. Republicans are going to have their hands full," he says. "We are going to work well together as a ticket."
Voters in Santa Fe overwhelmingly turned out for Lujan Grisham, unofficial results show.
"She seems like she has her head in the right place and she's going to do good for New Mexico," Rejeana Mascarenas told SFR on Tuesday afternoon, after casting her ballot for Lujan Grisham. "I'm really excited, and not just because she's a woman, but because of her ideas."
Apodaca had supporters here, too.
"I'm a Democrat that voted for Martinez in the last election, but I don't blame her for everything," Iraq war veteran Mike Luna tells SFR after voting on Tuesday. "I voted for Apodaca, I wanted change, I want to see if he could do a change. Being 49th in the country in education, for almost everything—it's really bad."
In an encouraging sign, voters turned out to the polls Tuesday in larger percentages than the last time New Mexico held midterm primary elections. In 2014, roughly 200,000 out of almost 1 million eligible voters cast ballots. (New Mexico holds closed primaries, meaning only registered members of the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties can legally vote.) This year, more than 259,000 voters—about 28 percent of the 921,796 eligible—blacked in their circles, according to unofficial results.
Shortly after the first batch of votes were posted on the secretary of state's website, both major parties brought out the long knives for their November opponent—signaling the muddy, entrenched battle that lies ahead. At 7:12 pm, the Democratic Governors Association issued a release saying Pearce is "too extreme for New Mexico." The Republican Governors Association responded 64 minutes later with an email subject-lined: "New Mexicans Can't Trust Far-Left Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham."
And there'll be plenty of money to keep the mud flying during the next six months.
Pearce spent nearly $1 million on the primary race, even though he did not face a challenger, and he heads into the general election with nearly $2 million in the bank, according to his most recent filings.
Lujan Grisham blew through more than $3 million beating back criticisms and attacks from her opponents in the pitched Democratic primary. She has about $1.1 million left over for the general.
Observers expect plenty of outside money to be spent on the race as well.
Election Day is Nov. 6. (Jeff Proctor)
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