State has scant influence in race

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By Hal Rhodes

As these lines are written, Super Tuesday is behind us  and the votes are still being counted in the 10 states where March 6 was primary election day.
For New Mexico Democrats, secure in the knowledge that President Obama will again be their standard bearer in the November election, Super Tuesday was at best a spectator sport.
For New Mexico Republicans, on the other hand, Super Tuesday was) yet another instance of having to stand by voiceless as voters in other states decided who their presidential nominee will likely be during the Fall campaign.
Super Tuesdays are big deals in any race for the White House. This year no fewer than 437 delegate slots at the August 27 Republican National Convention are (were) up for grabs. Yet which of the current crop of wannabe GOP presidential nominees will get how many of New Mexico’s 23 delegates at that August convention won’t be decided until state Republicans go the their polling places on primary election day, June 5.
That’s three months down the road. By then the game will be over, and it won’t matter one whit which of those wannabes New Mexico Republicans would have preferred at the top of their ticket this year.
It’s  quite ironic.  In a presidential election year, New Mexico is routinely deemed to be a “swing state” when the first Tuesday in November rolls around. A “bellwether” state, a state “in play,” where Democratic and Republican presidential nominees invest considerable efforts to put a modest 5 electoral votes in their column.
But, given New Mexico’s tradition of June primaries, state voters have scant influence in determining who those nominees are to be.
Four years ago, when then-Gov. Bill Richardson was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, the state Democratic party held a faux primary (officially called a caucus) on Feb. 5 with a view toward giving Richardson a leg up going into Super Tuesday.
It didn’t work. By Feb. 5, 2008, Richardson was effectively out of the race and the contest in New Mexico was basically between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, as it would remain well into that year’s scramble for the Democrats’ presidential nomination.
New Mexico Republicans, meanwhile, stuck with the traditional June primary and took what GOP voters elsewhere gave them by way of a nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
From time to time in years past there have been calls from various political quadrants to enhance New Mexico’s influence in the presidential nominating processes by moving the state’s primary elections up to March or at the very latest April.
 Richardson floated a variety of such proposals heading into the 2008 primary season, including a suggestion for an early “Western” primary. Nothing came of it, of course, which is why he settled on the fallback of a February Democratic caucus-cum-primary in New Mexico.
The principal obstacle to abandoning the traditional June primary schedule in New Mexico has largely centered on legislative reluctance to authorize such a change.
New Mexico lawmakers go into legislative sessions alternately for 30 and 60 days each year in mid-January and the thought of simultaneously legislating and running for re-nomination by their parties in early primaries has never had much appeal to incumbent legislators of either party.
Thus are June primaries likely to be the fate of New Mexico voters for a long time.
Perhaps this year it wouldn’t have mattered. With the Democratic presidential nomination a done deal, I recently asked a Republican chum which of his party’s hopefuls he favors.
“None of them,” he snapped.
Hal Rhodes
New Mexico News Service