John Sanchez: The candidate who chose not to run

September 16, 2018

It’s still almost two months away from the election, so nobody really knows who’s going to win. The only poll that really counts is on Election Day (said every candidate anywhere who’s ever been seriously behind in a poll).

But one of the biggest mysteries of the 2018 election in this Enchanted Land is what the heck happened to a promising and seemingly popular politician who, not that long ago, was considered a likely candidate for some office this year — governor, senator, congressman. And that’s Lt. Gov. John Sanchez.

Sanchez is a Republican and a very conservative Republican. Remember his short-lived campaign for U.S. Senate in 2012 when he accused eventual (unsuccessful) nominee Heather Wilson of being too liberal?

But the good-natured Sanchez earned high praise from Republicans and Democrats alike for the way he presided over the state Senate — one of the few actual duties of the lieutenant governor laid out in the state constitution.

And, by late last year, his political team seemed to be on the verge of making a big announcement. Sanchez was running Facebook ads inviting people to take an online issues survey that displayed what looks like a possible campaign slogan: “A New Day. New Opportunities.” He had a one-page website that looked like an embryonic campaign website, asking people to “Join John’s Team Today.” On the site was a quote: “There are challenges ahead, tough hills to climb and hard decisions to be made, but there is no greater honor for me than fighting for New Mexico and our future. Please join me today.”

But that fight never took place.

It’s been well reported that sometime last year, four major figures in the state GOP — Sanchez, Steve Pearce, Aubrey Dunn Jr. and then-Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry — had a meeting to discuss who would be the best Republican to run for governor. According to Pearce — and undisputed by the others — the four agreed that Pearce would have the best shot as a gubernatorial candidate. As it ended up, Pearce was the only GOP candidate for that slot.

But what about some of those other offices? I don’t know if Sanchez could actually defeat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich this year, but I can’t help but think he would have had a better shot than rookie Mick Rich. The lieutenant governor might have been strong enough to keep Libertarian Gary Johnson out of the race, but who knows?

And Sanchez might have been a stronger candidate than former legislator Janice Arnold-Jones, the Republican running against Deb Haaland for the 1st Congressional District seat — although no Republican has won that seat since Wilson came out on top over former Attorney General Patricia Madrid in that squeaker of a race in 2006.

So why didn’t Sanchez follow through with those challenges ahead and tough hills to climb?

Maybe he thought he’d be too closely identified with outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Even though his relationship with Martinez has been described as strained, and the two rarely were seen together for the past eight years, he was in fact the lieutenant governor. Don’t think the Dems wouldn’t have been eager to blast the “Martinez/Sanchez administration,” just like the GOP delighted in talking about the “Richardson/Denish administration” when then-Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was running against Martinez for governor in 2010.

Or maybe Sanchez determined what many national pundits have been saying as true — that 2018 could be a “wave year” for Democrats, mainly because of President Donald Trump’s mounting problems.

Trump remains more unpopular in New Mexico than in most states. A Morning Consult 50-state tracking poll for the month of August, published last week, shows that only 40 percent of New Mexicans surveyed approved of Trump’s performance, while 56 percent disapproved.

Or perhaps Sanchez was just sick of politics. That happens sometimes to those who have played the game.

So maybe Sanchez just decided to sit this one out and wait until the pendulum swings his way again in the future. He’s only 55 years old — which in politics is considered young. So whatever you’re doing after this year, John, don’t be a stranger.

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