I don’t know about you, but I still feel pole-axed by the last couple weeks in politics. I chatted with one of my dearest neighbors last week at the mailbox and it was a bummer. She’s really down. Her business has taken a huge hit, the chaos and inertia out of Washington have her completely fed up and she is so frustrated she didn’t even want to hear about my cats (she and her husband were key in the spring migrant kitty operation I wrote about previously).
One thing is clear. Like me, like many of you, her mind is made up. And she will be voting early. County clerks across New Mexico are reporting record numbers of voters arriving to vote since in-person early voting opened on Tuesday. A record number of absentee ballots have been requested. Time is running out for campaigns to make an impact.
While the New Mexico GOP has put together one of its largest-ever slates of legislative candidates, the Republicans may drop two of its most consistent red districts this year, both in the East Mountains. The Republican candidates in Senate District 19 and House District 22 don’t seem to be getting much traction less than four weeks before Election Day. And their Democratic opponents are working harder than ever and reaching out to independent and Republican voters with issues-based messages.
When I first wrote about local races in August, I hadn’t met Senate District 19 candidate Claudia Risner. That was corrected quickly. A Republican told her to call me immediately to get acquainted. I got an email from a reader letting me know I had made a crucial omission in that column by not mentioning Risner. She called me, we spoke, she answered my questions with great thought and candor. She’s a really good candidate.
As I noted previously, Jessica Velasquez, the Democrat running for House District 22, works unbelievably hard. She is working the phones daily and is also calling independents and Republicans. She’s reached out to me and she has ready, real answers about the issues that affect us the most in New Mexico.
The Republican candidates, current House District 22 Representative Gregg Schmedes, now running for the Senate District 19 seat previously held by Senator Jim White, and his protégé, Stefani Lord, recruited to follow him into the House District 22 seat, just don’t seem to be out there campaigning. To be fair, voter registration numbers are on their side—these districts have been majority Republican for decades. Independents, or “decline to state” have chipped away at that, but Democrats are firmly in the minority in these districts.
But when you have two hard-working Democrats working the phones seven days a week calling your Republican voter base, you need to get yourself out there. One issue both the Republican candidates also face is sluggish fundraising. Risner and Velasquez have significantly out-raised Schmedes and Lord and it shows in our mailboxes and on our roads.
Also, I think the East Mountain voters, like my neighbor and me, want to hear more than the same right-wing platitudes Republicans have used to win over Republicans for the last 30 years. 2020 needs solutions to issues besides guns and abortion, and voters want to hear ideas to help their families and businesses as the pandemic drags on.
It also doesn’t help that Representative Schmedes has not attended a single legislative interim committee meeting. Interim committee meetings shape the agenda for the annual legislative session; non-attendance by our representative pretty much costs us constituents our seat at the table for impacting the 2021 agenda. And hey, if you want a promotion, you need to put in the work.
While circumstances at the time allowed a far-right divisive candidate to pull out a close win in 2018, today that campaign model looks less solid, and more like an over-ambitious gamble. Risner and Velasquez don’t check every box for me, but they bring deep thought, passion for their community and hard work to the campaign. I hate to see the Republican caucus lose two safe seats, but time is running out to show voters what you are bringing to the table. What I see right now is tired, extreme rhetoric and a representative who couldn’t be bothered to go to committee meetings. The clock is running, and ballots are being cast.
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. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.