, Port Arthur, Texas


September 20, 2012

Some in NM long to be swing state again

— TV station owners here, and some editorial writers, tend to envy Ohio, where the presidential campaigns have dropped more than $112 million by early September.

That's because Ohio's 18 electoral votes are considered to be so up for grabs that Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney and their running mates have been there so much that they probably qualify for residency.

Not so poor New Mexico, which in some past elections has been courted by both major presidential campaigns.

No, this year, in late August, it came as little surprise when the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled its advertising dollars to shift them to more competitive states.  Polls have shown a continuing lead of at least five percentage points for U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat and former Albuquerque city councilman, over Republican former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee soon followed suit, pulling back on spending in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingamin, a Democrat.           

Although New Mexico earlier in 2012 was thought a possible swing state, Democrat Obama has also maintained a 5-point advantage over Republican Romney for New Mexico's five electoral votes.

New Mexico was a reliable state for Republican presidential tickets through 1988. But in 1992, it went for Democrat Bill Clinton, and has remained Democratic since, except for 2004, when it backed George W. Bush's re-election.

In 2008, Obama beat Republican John McCain with 56.7 percent. In Red State Texas, which last backed a Democrat for president in 1976, McCain beat Obama 55-44.

The decision by the campaign committees to shift money elsewhere is welcome news for Democrats, as a vote of confidence.

For the Republicans in general and Wilson in particular, it's a sad indication New Mexico is no longer considered very competitive – despite making Republican Susana Martinez in 2010 the nation's first Latina elected governor. Her approval rating earlier this month was 69 percent.

In a recent editorial, the Santa Fe New Mexican longingly hoped that the narrow five-point spread – almost within the newspaper's poll's 3.8 percent margin of error -- could put the state back into competition.

". . . . Those numbers make the state almost a battleground," the newspaper wrote. "We could get a presidential visit or a Romney rally, ads from the candidates, not just their surrogates – New Mexico could matter once again to the national election picture.

"To be a battleground is to bask in national attention, to feel the flood of political dollars flowing, and best of all, to receive the candidates in person, not just on television. We can only hope that New Mexico really is a battleground – perhaps caring about this state's votes will translate into more attention to our issues, especially proposed cuts in federal spending that could cripple the state's economy. . . .

"The true swing states – Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia, Wisconsin, and perhaps North Carolina – will enjoy attention, advertising dollars and plenty of visits from Obama/Joe Biden and Romney/Paul Ryan. . . . "

The Republican committee pulling its funding from supporting Heather Wilson's race comes despite some pretty strong credentials.

In 1998, she became the first Republican woman elected to represent New Mexico in congress, and also the first female military veteran ever to win a full term in Congress.

A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Wilson was a Rhodes Scholar and got a doctorate in international relations prior to a seven-year career as an Air Force officer. She later served as a foreign relations adviser to President George H.W. Bush.

She served a decade in the U.S. House before trying in 2008 to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici. She lost the GOP primary to another congressman, Steve Pearce. He then lost the general election to yet another congressman, Democrat Tom Udall, who got 62 percent.

Wilson, 51, hasn't given up, and is still airing TV ads in which she pledges to continue benefits like Social Security for senior citizens. And should the Senate race tighten up, the national Republicans might reconsider and send some or all of the $1.8 million it now plans to spend elsewhere.

Wilson and Heinrich, at least for now, each seem to have in virtually every local newscast a positive TV ad pushing themselves, and a negative one calling the other a Washington junkie.

Heinrich, 40, in addition to service as a member and then president of Albuquerque's city council, headed up the state's natural resources department under Democratic former Gov. Bill Richardson before his election to the U.S. House to replace Udall.

•• •

Poverty, Uninsured . . . . New Mexico ranks highest in the nation of percentage of its people living in poverty, at 22.2 percent. The percentage in Texas is 17.4 percent, or sixth among the states. The national rate is 15 percent.

Texas regains first place, however, when it comes to those without health insurance – at 25 percent. New Mexico is sixth, at 19.6 percent. The nation uninsured rate is 15.7 percent.


Contact McNeely at or 512/458-2963.

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