Dispatch New Mexico: Who will win over the state in 2016?

By the time New Mexico’s preferential primaries roll around on June 7, some 40 other states will have already voted for their party’s candidate. That means there’s a good chance the nation’s Democrats and Republicans will have already decided who their nominees will be, even if it isn’t official until they hold their national conventions in July 2016.

But no worries, New Mexicans will still get to vote in the November general election—and that could actually make a difference in a close race.

New Mexico, where neither party dominates the political landscape for very long, is widely considered to be a “battleground state” in presidential elections, and, according to Brandon Fallon of the Independent Voter Project, it could happen again in 2016. He bases his projection on the fact that the state’s Hispanic population is growing while Republicans have some momentum going their way.

“The winner of the Latino vote is likely to win New Mexico and similar states,” Brandon wrote at ivp.us.

I’m guessing that eliminates the fire-breathing Donald Trump as a winner in this state. His words may resonate among a lot of conservatives, including conservative Hispanics, but even our own Gov. Susana Martinez, a sweetheart in the national GOP, has condemned Trump’s remarks about Mexicans being drug dealers and rapists. Even if he could win the Republican vote here, he’d crash and burn in our general election.

On the Republican side, it’s hard to tell who has a real chance at winning the GOP nomination and who doesn’t. Maybe it’s to New Mexico’s advantage that the field of candidates will be far fewer by the time the primary rolls around here.

Also on the Republican side, the unexpected rise of neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson supports the idea that this is a year for the outsiders. Whether he could win New Mexico is another unknown, but I’ll bet he has a better shot than Trump.

That’s the fascinating thing about the current presidential race—the outsiders have the edge over the more conventional candidates who have the money and the organization. Establishment candidates Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton should be moving comfortably toward coronation, maybe even sewing up their party nominations before Super Tuesday (March 1 next year, when more than a dozen states will hold their primaries). But that doesn’t look likely this time around, as Bush is being overshadowed by Trump—and Carson, another outsider who’s rising in the polls — while Clinton has to fend off Bernie Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont.

Sanders, a populist and self-described “democratic socialist,” is another party crasher. Clinton’s wealth of experience, as well as her name and connections, has helped to create an enormous network of volunteers and loads of money. But since she’s part of the Democrats’ “establishment,” Sanders has become a viable alternative to the “politics as usual” approach that most Americans, and New Mexicans, are sick of these days.

I don’t know how Sanders will play in New Mexico, but it’s obvious he’s playing well with young people around the nation.

Sanders, like Trump and Carson, finds his strength in not being your typical politician. That’s what is attracting voters to him. He’s speaking more from the heart than from a script.

Both Sanders and Trump are, in a sense, battling for the “soul” of their parties. Trump is knocking the deep-pocketed special interest groups down a notch or two inside the Republican Party, an ironic twist given his massive personal wealth. Meanwhile, Sanders is doing much the same thing, only without the money; he’s using youthful enthusiasm to build the base he needs.

Plus, they’re also pushing other candidates toward the fringes of their parties’ rhetoric, something that might not play well in New Mexico. Collectively, we’re a far more moderate state (that’s why we’re so often a battleground state), so I’m not sure how Trump’s narcissistic flamboyance and Sanders’ anti-establishment message will resonate here.

Maybe the Land of Enchantment will get to weigh in on these party renegades, since their anti-Washington momentum has yet to wane. If they can keep it going until next June, there could be a real fight in the party ranks, not just nationally but right here in New Mexico. If that happens, we’ll have a front-row seat to the action.

Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com or tmcdonald@rdrnews.com.