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Is a blue wave coming to New Mexico?

September 24, 2018

It’s beginning to look a lot like a blowout.

I know there is still a little more than six weeks before the 2018 general election, but that big blue wave that many national pundits have been yammering about for months and months looks more and more likely — in New Mexico, at least.

The marquee races in this state are looking increasingly worse for the GOP.

Last week’s Albuquerque Journal poll — to hardly anybody’s surprise — showed the Democratic candidates for governor, U.S. senator and 1st Congressional District well ahead of their Republican opponents.

The FiveThirtyEight website, run by statistician Nate Silver, has Democratic congressional candidate Deb Haaland with a 97.7 percent chance to defeat Republican Janice Arnold-Jones in that Albuquerque-based district, while in the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich, the website says, has a 99 percent chance of winning. Both Republican Mick Rich and Libertarian Gary Johnson have less than a 1 percent chance of winning, according to the website’s much-vaunted computer model, which considers polling as well as fundraising, past voting, historical trends and other factors.

So even if Johnson drops out — as state Republicans have begged him to do recently — the odds would be bad for Rich. For one thing, I’m pretty sure that a huge chunk of Johnson’s supporters didn’t come for his small-government/low-taxes philosophy. They’re there because, like Johnson, they favor legalization of marijuana. In the highly unlikely event Johnson withdraws, that segment of his support wouldn’t go to socially conservative Rich. If they voted at all, they’d probably be more likely to go with Heinrich, who this year also endorsed legalization.

Again, it’s not surprising that Heinrich and Haaland have strong leads with pollsters and political forecasters. But in recent days, the Republicans’ major bright spot in the state — the conservative 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Yvette Herrell had a healthy lead in the Journal poll — looks like it might be tightening. A New York Times/Siena College poll published early last week showed Democrat Xochitl Torres Small with a small — one-point — lead over Herrell.

The Times had a big disclaimer about this poll, the only one I’ve seen with Torres Small leading. “Given expectations, our poll is a good result for Democrats,” the paper said. “But remember: It’s just one poll, and we talked to only 503 people. Each candidate’s total could easily be five points different if we polled everyone in the district. And having a small sample is only one possible source of error.”

FiveThirtyEight, by the way, still has Herrell with a 64 percent chance of winning, even with that Times poll factored in. But last week a couple of prominent national prognosticators — Larry Sabato and Charlie Cook — changed their ratings in that race from “leans Republican” to “toss-up.” Democrats are smelling blood here and Torres Small is picking up momentum.

Silver’s website has not yet began forecasting gubernatorial races. (I think I heard on one of their recent podcasts that this might be coming soon.) But it’s looking less and less like there is going to be an upset in the race between Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, who trailed by 7 percentage points in the Journal poll. Both campaigns are starting to act that way.

Since even before his unopposed primary, Pearce had run an upbeat, positive campaign, featuring rhetoric and ads that tried to de-emphasize his harder right-wing edges. In reasonable tones, he emphasized jobs and education. Those ads were praised by many, including some grudging Dems.

But no more Mr. Nice Guy. Last week, his ad literally called Lujan Grisham “dishonest and dirty, shamelessly corrupt” because of her “shady self-dealing” role in a company that helped administer the state’s high-risk medical insurance pool.

I can’t help but think that Pearce, who has always proclaimed his distaste for attack ads, wouldn’t have resorted to this had he not been worried. It’s too early to say for sure whether the ad helped or hurt him. I suspect that the jarring contrast with his early ads won’t serve him well.

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