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SANTA FE — About the only exciting results of New Mexico’s primary elections were the 1st Congressional District Democratic race and a GOP state Senate race in the northeastern part of the state. None of the statewide races were nailbiters.
Of course, there weren’t many statewide races. New Mexico saves those for non-presidential years. The lack of much excitement kept voter participation down in the low 20-percent range.
Albuquerque provided a classic congressional thriller for Democrats. State Sen. Eric Griego was the early leader and appeared to have the nomination locked up with many union and environmental endorsements and donations.
But County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham came with a host of women’s endorsements and money. Lujan Grisham has held state cabinet positions and has run for Congress before. During those runs she had strong support from the elderly as a result of serving as their state advocate in various positions. That may have helped her squeeze out a victory.
Former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez also was in the race. It is entirely possible he took more votes from Lujan Grisham than from Griego, who was far to the left of his opponents.
Republicans couldn’t get an exciting race going for either the U.S. Senate or House. In both, it was a game of attrition, with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez dropping out of the senatorial race, basically leaving it to former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson. On the U.S. House side, former state Rep. Janice Arnold Jones witnessed two candidates leave the race, one of whom was thought to be the favorite.
The other exciting primary race was centered in Clovis but had statewide implications because of the participation of Gov. Susana Martinez with Super PAC money and personal appearances for candidate Angela Spears.
News of Gov. Martinez’s speaking schedule may have stayed relatively quiet except for a belly landing in rough weather at the Santa Fe airport returning from a campaign stop for Spears in Tucumcari.
The governor was said to have been unfazed by her brush with danger but she may have wished the incident would have occurred at a better time. Clovis District Attorney Matt Chandler also was aboard.
That would not have been legal if it had been a state airplane but it was a private plane piloted by a private pilot, not a commercial pilot.
Spears was defeated by rancher Pat Woods, who was not happy with the governor taking sides. A third candidate in the race dropped out to help Woods’ effort.
This wasn’t the only instance of Gov. Martinez being openly involved in legislative races. A Super PAC closely associated with the governor sent out mailings directed at the opponents of Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, and Sen. Phil Griego of San Jose.
She also sent out negative material directed at Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, who had been endorsed by former House Speaker Ben Lujan. She was successful in all those efforts.
Martinez’s chief political advisor Jay McCleskey says overall these elections will be helpful to the governor’s legislative initiatives. Even Pat Woods says he will be with Martinez on all the issues.
The only question that remains is why did Gov. Martinez pick a favorite in a race she couldn’t lose?
Five states had presidential primaries last Tuesday also. With California and New Jersey in that mix, a very large number of electoral votes were decided. .
The only problem was that Mitt Romney didn’t need any of them. It is amazing that 21 percent of the GOP electorate turned out for the election. There were a few hot local Republican primaries and that was it.
Early presidential primaries do not fit well with other races on the ballot. But most states have a separate event to choose presidential delegates. Democrats did it for Bill Richardson when he was running for president. It is, at least, a good temporary job creator.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.