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GOP’s best hope is candidate who just lost in a rout

November 13, 2018

The Republican Party of New Mexico should be sued for false advertising.

It’s a 98-pound weakling that still uses an elephant as its mascot.

Republicans lost every statewide race in last week’s election. They dropped nine seats in the state House of Representatives while picking up one. They lost every contested seat on the state’s two highest appeals courts.

The Republicans still claim red as their color. But the reddest New Mexico turned in this election was the burgundy shade of state Republican Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi’s embarrassed face.

Apparently addled by all the defeats, Cangiolosi sent out a jubilant statement on Election Night congratulating Republican Yvette Herrell for winning the congressional seat in Southern New Mexico.

It was wishful thinking by Cangiolosi. Herrell lost the election. But in keeping with the delusional style of a dysfunctional party, she gave a victory speech before thousands of votes had been counted.

So feeble are the Republicans that 71-year-old Steve Pearce, who just took a terrible beating in the race for governor, is their best hope for the 2020 election.

Pearce remains stronger than the collective organization around him. He said he had no plans to retire, even after the 14-point thumping he took in the election for governor.

His statement turned into the best news of the night for Republicans.

Pearce seemed to have no real prospects after Herrell claimed she was heading to Congress from the 2nd District. Pearce gave up that seat to run for governor.

Now he might try to reclaim it, as he did after surrendering the seat to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008. Pearce lost the Senate race decisively, but rebounded in 2010 to defeat a Democrat for his old spot in the House of Representatives.

Pearce would still be the toughest candidate Republicans could field in the 2nd District, which stretches from the Arizona line to the oil-rich Permian Basin bordering Texas.

Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who turns 34 years old this week, is the congresswoman-elect in the 2nd District. She defeated Herrell in a back-and-forth race.

Along with the usual challenges of being a freshman representative in the gridlock of Washington, Torres Small will have to start campaigning again almost immediately. She must raise tens of thousands of dollars every month for her re-election bid.

It’s an insane system. But if Torres Small wants to stay in Congress, she will need to organize a re-election campaign before casting her first vote in the House.

As for the Republicans, Cangiolosi’s successor as leader of the party has nowhere to go but up.

Cangiolosi failed to enlist good candidates for many races. By default, a self-promoting contractor named Mick Rich became the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. He had never run for anything, and it showed. Rich mostly spouted his support for President Donald Trump, an unpopular figure in New Mexico.

An agile party chairman would have recruited somebody to run against Rich in the Republican primary. Instead, Cangiolosi stuck with Rich, ceding the Senate race to first-term Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich.

But the Republicans’ collapse wasn’t all Cangiolosi’s fault. Some of the blame goes to bad candidates who should have stepped aside.

State Rep. Monica Youngblood was the chief offender. Once an advocate for law and order, she did all she could to drag down her party.

Youngblood insisted on continuing her re-election campaign after her arrest and conviction for aggravated drunken driving. She had gratuitously mentioned her political office to the Albuquerque police officer who stopped her and smelled booze on her breath.

Youngblood refused to take a breath-alcohol test. Then she babbled about how, until her own arrest, she had discounted complaints of racial prejudice by Albuquerque officers.

A Democrat trounced Youngblood in what once was a safe district for Republicans.

Still, history tells us there might be hope for Republicans. Only four years ago, it was New Mexico Democrats who were pulverized in an election.

Sam Bregman, then the Democratic Party chairman, presided over that disaster.

Democrats lost the governor’s race in a rout after a weak candidate, Gary King, won a five-way primary. More embarrassing, Democrats lost control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower took the White House.

If there is to be a turnabout this time, Republicans need to recruit good candidates. Their bench is empty, except for Pearce.

Party faithful have to hope he’s like an old Timex watch.

He just took a licking. Can he keep on ticking until they find contenders?

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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