2020 will go down in history as the least inspiring Presidential election ever. Trump is just doing his thing and we’ve seen it all before. And so is Biden. One columnist this week actually referred to the Democratic presidential campaign as a “minivan”: it’s not exciting, but it gets you there.
It’s not much more compelling down the ticket. The Republicans, from the President on down, insist on running essentially a primary campaign. Attack, attack, attack, and push as far right as possible. This is what happened in 2018, and except for a few pockets here and there, it was a losing prospect for the GOP nationwide. At the same time the Democrats to me seem fairly unfocused. My take is that they love science and healthcare and don’t love Trump so much. Beyond that, I can’t really tell.
There are three races that do really interest me in New Mexico in 2020. First, Congressional District 2. I know we can’t vote for it in the East Mountains, but we are sure going to see some interesting ads. It’s fascinating because every political prognosticator lists incumbent Xochitl Torres-Small as vulnerable and she has raised almost three times as much money as her Republican challenger. And she is essentially running as a pro-business, pro-oil moderate Republican right now. Former State Representative Yvette Herrell now has the opportunity to show her stance on issues rather than bashing her primary opponent over who is more loyal to the President. It’s going to be an interesting fall watching these two. And don’t even get me started on the NM Oil and Gas Association drama.
But the real excitement is here in the East Mountains: State Senate District 19 and State House District 22.
Before I go into details, I want to make full disclosure: There is absolutely no way I could have been elected to the Legislature in 2018. Here’s why: Gregg Schmedes is the most ruthless campaigner this state has seen in recent times and Jessica Velasquez is the hardest working. Quite frankly, I have neither the stomach nor the drive to run a campaign like these two. In 2018, their get-out-the-vote efforts yielded the highest-ever turnout seen in District 22 this century, with barely one hundred votes separating the two. They’re that tough.
So, in Senate district 19, Schmedes, having lived in the district all of two years (he literally moved into the East Mountains the last day possible to be eligible to run for the Legislature in 2018), bucked the state GOP and his own caucus and mounted a secret petition campaign this winter to challenge highly respected incumbent Jim White in the primary. And he attacked. And he won. He uses a Capital Beltway “grassroots” campaign firm that plans all of his messaging and robo-calls. And he is always on the offensive. Currently he is fighting: the governor, PED, the NM Supreme Court and vaccines that don’t exist yet. This is what he does. It’s popular as hell. What bears watching this fall is the different demographics of District 19. Now, he has a more urban voter base, and a Libertarian challenger as well as a Democratic one. Potential pitfalls: his Libertarian opponent could split the conservative vote, and his Democratic opponent will have big funding and big support from Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland.
House District 22: This will be another white knuckle, down-to-the-wire race, I think. Velasquez knows this district, has an outstanding track record as a volunteer and activist, and also has big Democratic money and firepower behind her. The Democratic caucus, well-funded and organized, would love to pick up this long-time GOP seat. She is very charismatic and she works hard. Boy, does she work. She’s pro-business, pro-gun, and has well-researched platform stances on education, water and access to technology—key issues for the East Mountains. She also works a crowd beautifully. When I met her at events during the 2018 primary I wanted to talk to her the entire time instead of meeting people. She’s that cool.
Her opponent, Republican Stefani Lord, also brings strengths to the race. She’s an activist and volunteer. She is a long-time resident of the East Mountains and has established relationships. I don’t know her personally, but she is working hard from what I can see. One thing that may give her some advantage is that she is the hand-selected replacement of Schmedes, and it is likely she is getting personal coaching on strategy and tactics. At the same time, since she did not burn any bridges in her primary campaign, despite collecting petition signatures right next to Schmedes, Lord has the support of county and state GOP infrastructures. And, finally, the East Mountain Republicans have organized in 2020. That can only help.
Even without traditional canvassing, these races will offer a lot of excitement for voters this year. Stay tuned. I know The Independent is going to give you great coverage of our Legislative races, and we won’t be able to escape the Congressional TV ad battle.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat.