The summer of 2022 is bringing a lot of issues we haven’t seen in America in decades to the forefront. Russia is actively proliferating a war in Europe; inflation is approaching double digits; and women in many states no longer have access to abortion. And it’s an election year.
Interestingly, most Americans are staying in the center of the political spectrum, and the smartest candidates know it. New Mexico’s gubernatorial election, in particular, is a race to the center.
In 2018, there is no way Michelle Lujan Grisham would have been talking about cutting taxes in the state Democratic primary. But here we are in 2022, and the governor has delivered a historic (yet tiny) cut in gross receipts taxes! And then there are our tax rebates, spread out carefully so that the second $250 payment arrives just before the election!
This week, Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti just released new ads touting his moderate stance on abortion: on demand up to 15 weeks, then allowable after that in cases of medical necessity, rape or incest. There is no possible way he would have uttered that in public during the primary, much less at the GOP convention.
Where the governor is most vulnerable is the economy. New Mexico was a poor state before the pandemic; the pandemic and 9.1% inflation are devastating for our business community. And the strict emergency decrees in place since March of 2020 with no input from the Legislature could be an Achilles heel if Ronchetti plays it right.
Another potential weakness is this administration’s ambivalence to the oil and gas industry. Botched Washington policies out of the White House and the Department of the Interior combined with the war in Ukraine have put oil prices at unprecedented levels that every New Mexican feels at the gas pump.
Increased production in the Permian Basin would do much to improve gas prices. It’s only this month that new oil leases have been sold again after an 18-month hiatus. It wouldn’t be hard to align Lujan Grisham with President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as part of this problem.
Beyond the core issues for the middle—jobs, crime and the economy, expect a negative campaign slugfest to continue and gain momentum. Ronchetti’s team showed real aptitude for personal attacks in the primary, and Lujan Grisham’s people have come out swinging.
It will be an interesting race in the Legislature, as well. After what was termed the “blue tsunami” in 2018, followed by a “pro-business purge” in 2020 where more conservative Democratic legislators were removed in primary races by progressive opponents, the state GOP has put up an expansive list of legislative candidates.
A pandemic-weary business community may finally put a small dent in the Democratic super-majority in the Legislature. Nothing approaching a Republican majority, I am afraid, but perhaps enough to pick up some seats in the Albuquerque metro lost in 2018 and 2020. But this will be less a shift toward Republican ideals than away from progressive anti-business policies.
Some of the more radical progressive views on crime may also prop up Republican candidates in the Albuquerque Metro. As “defund the police” movements became associated with Democrats in general, some Democratic candidates (such as in the attorney general primary) have had to work overtime to take on a “tough on crime” stance.
The extreme partisans in both parties take up causes that most voters don’t care about. Which is why you will see most of the races in the state come down to either the most basic issues of concern for New Mexicans—jobs, education and crime—or simply vicious personal attacks to discredit the other candidate, or some combination of the two.
Republicans may talk more about taxes, Democrats may talk more about healthcare, but it’s all the same story, more or less. Elections are won from the middle, and now it’s a race to get there.