Republicans took a hard look at a talented field and selected their strongest candidate for governor, by a landslide. Several firsts here: first female gubernatorial candidate (tied with Democrats), first Spanish-speaking Republican candidate for governor in modern times, first all-Hispanic Gov-Lt. Gov team for either party in modern times. But to their credit these firsts were the almost accidental byproducts of a far more historic decision by Republicans: to join the fray, after a disastrous eight-year monopoly on power by a smug and complacent clique of Democrats, to shoulder responsibility for governing all New Mexicans, not just Republicans, and to become competitive again instead of whining about New Mexico while drooling over Sarah Palin and loving to hate with Rush Limbaugh. These candidates became the nominees because they were the best the Republicans had to offer the voters of the state. For once partisan politics worked well, and Republicans will point proudly to this ticket for many decades to come.
The same cannot be said for the Democratic field, which starts out at a major disadvantage, both candidates having participated freely in the eight-year support system for Uncle Bill's over-sized personal ambitions, public policy be damned. Denish, of course, had no opposition, having locked up the nomination years ago with fund raisers, social favors to party loyalists, and the clique's decision, once Richardson was toast, that she would be anointed. Brian Colon starts out with even more difficulties, since he was handpicked by Richardson to be the point man for the Democratic Party, that is to say, the Richardson Democratic Party of New Mexico.
But don't count them out yet. For one thing, Democrats outnumber Republicans heavily in New Mexico for a reason: Hispanics identify with them more than with Republicans. A Spanish surname doesn't guarantee Hispanics will identify with you, as John Sanchez himself found out eight years ago. And it was an open secret for many years that Diane Denish found Richardson's personal behavior to be repugnant, and that Richardson was keeping her out of the loop. So she has at least a flicker of daylight between herself and Richardson, if she chooses to emphasize it. Finally, Democrats have experience at governing and probably, square inch by square inch, understand New Mexico better than most Republicans. Should Democrats be able to reinvent themselves with a sincere message, based on this deep understanding, voters might prefer them in spite of the albatross around their neck right now. This is especially true if the Republicans tamper with the Martinez campaign, emphasizing national themes or issues that don't resonate with moderate Democrats in New Mexico.
But let's face it. This race is Martinez's to lose and the momentum in New Mexico after years of in-your-face corruption at many levels is with the Republican Party this year. Denish is saddled not only having to explain her own relationships with the previous administration, but also with Colon's and with the serious inattention to corruption in the Attorney General's office and in the legislature, and the lack of courage among Democrats to say NO to Richardson's outrageous excesses, like the welfare check to his Hollywood buddies, which will have cost taxpayers $264 million in the last three years alone during a serious fiscal crisis. Just one little hint last night that Democrats themselves are not happy with party bosses: Ben Lujan, Speaker of the House, eked out a bare victory over his primary opponent by less than 100 votes, in Santa Fe County--you can't be more insider than that. Susana has a lot more elbow room to forge an attractive, plausible case that she should be given a chance to govern the state.