|Deborah Haaland and Gary King are the Democratic nominees for Lt. Governor and Governor of New Mexico for 2014|
Many in the Democratic Party gave Gary King little chance at success when he came in last with 10% of the vote of Democratic Party activists at the Pre-Primary Convention in March. In fact, King made history when he became the first Democratic candidate with less than 20% of state-wide party delegate votes to go on the primary ballot and win the office he was seeking. His fund-raising was positively anemic and he had to contribute $500,000 of his own funds to get a TV commercial up in the final two weeks of the campaign. But, Gary had the largest name recognition being the son of a popular four term governor of New Mexico, Bruce King. And he took advantage of that in an overly large field of five candidates with the other four running as more progressive Democrats.
King will have to overcome the lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy among many activists and grassroots Democrats who donate most of the money and do the ground game needed to win an election. The truth is that a large percentage of the 65% of the Democratic primary votes not cast for Gary King were "ABG" votes ("Anybody But Gary"). Those voters were very excited about the candidates they were supporting and it remains to be seen how many of those grassroots supporters will transition to work as hard for Gary as they did for their candidate. The Democratic Party has one big advantage though, and that is Susana Martinez is universally disliked by the Democratic voters who are the majority in the state. Many Hispanic voters who voted for her in 2010 are disillusioned with her performance as Governor. All five of the Democratic contenders were well aware that the Democrats needed to come out of the Primary united and so they ran respectful campaigns without attacking each other. Democrats will need to appeal to the 19% of independent voters in New Mexico, a growing trend from previous elections where Democrats took for granted support from their majority Party base. Now Democrats represent 47% of the registered voters and Republicans represent 31% of registered voters.
Here is my analysis of some of the weaknesses in the New Mexico Democratic primary race: Too many candidates ran, thereby allowing a "minority" vote candidate to win by only 35% of the the vote. The weaker two candidates who were polling low in the last month of the campaign probably should have withdrawn and ceded support to one of the stronger three candidates (King, Webber or Rael). Morales and Lopez (who had very loyal and dedicated, but small, regional voting bases) effectively acted as "spoilers" for a clear majority candidate when they took away 12.5% of the vote. Also, early on, it was clear that Rael and Webber were the most effective fund raisers and had strong support from the larger counties. When a March poll showed Gary King with the highest polling numbers and name recognition with less than three months of campaigning left, campaign strategists should have seen that Rael and Webber were drawing from the same voting base and perhaps a "deal" could have been made between the two of them to insure that one of them would have been elected by combining the financial and voting resources for only one of them. And lastly, I want to put an old canard to rest: you do not have to have an Hispanic name to win in New Mexico. In a state where 47% of the population is Hispanic, 57.5% of the Democratic primary votes went to the two non-Hispanic candidates. I can't tell you how many times I spoke to Democratic voters who wanted to vote for the more visionary newcomer (Alan Webber), but said they would vote for Lawrence Rael instead because they felt that the Democrats needed an Hispanic candidate to run against Susana Martinez. In other words, they voted for their "second choice" because of a false premise.
Another weakness Gary King will have is in engaging younger voters and the working class poor to vote in November. He is not a great public speaker and his performance as Attorney General doesn't particularly stand out despite many opportunities in the last three years to aggressively challenge actions of the Martinez administration. Democrats in the 2014 legislative session missed an opportunity to put a Constitutional Amendment on the November ballot to raise the minimum wage in the state when several chickensh*t Democratic legislators were AWOL for the vote. Additionally, a Senate Resolution to vote on a Constitutional Amendment to legalize marijuana died in committee. I consider these failures a problem for the Democratic Party in New Mexico -- Democratic politicians are short-sighted and rarely work together strategically to accomplish their goals. If they had been thinking about the implications of having a minimum wage raise on the ballot, they would have done so and ensured that the Democratic base would have showed up in November on such an essential economic issue. Presently, signatures are being gathered for a petition for an initiative to de-criminalize possession of marijuana in New Mexico in two of the largest counties: Bernalillo and Santa Fe. A successful petition drive could put the issue on the November ballot in those two counties and motivate many younger voters to come out and vote on election day, benefiting the Democratic candidates. However, Gary King is on record opposing the legalization of marijuana.
Despite these potential weaknesses, I challenge all the Democrats in New Mexico to get on board and support Gary King. For the reasons I previously blogged about, we cannot afford to miss a beat in building the campaign to defeat Susana Martinez. Apathy and disappointment is not an option.