GOP gives moderate women preprimary victories
At a time when Democrats are trying to convince voters the GOP is controlled by right-wing extremists, New Mexico’s Republican Party insiders gave huge wins this weekend to two federal candidates with more moderate voting records.
Nationally, Democrats are on a campaign to convince voters the Republican Party is controlled by right-wing extremists who don’t represent them.
But New Mexico’s Republican Party insiders gave huge wins this weekend to two federal candidates with more moderate voting records.
In the Republican U.S. Senate race, delegates at the Republican Party’s preprimary nominating convention gave Heather Wilson 83 percent of the vote to Greg Sowards’ 17 percent. Sowards’ argument that Wilson is too liberal and plagued by scandal fell flat. He failed to get the 20 percent needed to qualify for the ballot, so he now has to collect more signatures to stay in the race.
In the Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District race, the more moderate Janice Arnold-Jones made good on an earlier claim that she would easily win the preprimary. She won 63 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Pastor and City Councilor Dan Lewis and 4 percent for Gary Smith.
Wilson’s win was expected, but keeping Sowards below 20 percent was a big victory for her – especially coming off a week in which Sowards nuked her in mailers and phone calls. Arnold-Jones’ win was especially impressive because her fundraising has been lukewarm, and because her claiming victory a month early gave the other candidates time to pick off delegates, but they failed to do it.
The bottom line: In a center-left state in which Republicans have to secure Democratic votes to win general elections, one could argue the preprimary delegates made pragmatic choices by choosing center-right women over more right-leaning men.
What a difference four years makes
For Wilson, victory in the primary seems almost inevitable. Candidates who stay in the race after failing to qualify for the ballot at preprimary conventions have an awful track record. The latest poll had Wilson leading Sowards by 71 points among primary voters.
What a difference four years makes.
Wilson ran in the 2008 GOP Senate primary against the more conservative Steve Pearce as a “commonsense conservative,” describing her philosophy at the time by saying she trusts people more than government and believes in a strong national defense and strong families, but she’s also “a pragmatist focused on problem solving” and figuring out “what’s the best thing for New Mexico.”
Even though Wilson warned GOP primary voters in a 2008 TV ad that Pearce couldn’t win the general election against a Democrat, he won the preprimary 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent, then went on to win the primary by about 2 percentage points. As Wilson predicted, Pearce lost the general to Democrat Tom Udall by 23 points.
Wilson won the votes of almost twice as many preprimary delegates this year.
From the start, Wilson designed her 2012 campaign to convey the message, “Don’t make the same mistake twice.” Her announcement that she was running for Senate featured former Land Commissioner candidate Matt Rush and former U.S. Rep. Bill Redmond – prominent leaders in the conservative wing of the party.
She worked hard to build momentum from there and put together an impressive list of endorsements in her race against Sowards and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who eventually dropped out and endorsed her.
Wilson has played up the areas in which she agrees with the more conservative wing of her party – that’s what you do in a primary, right? – but has also said repeatedly, “We may not always agree on everything, but I won’t play political games, and I will always tell you the truth.”
After picking the more conservative candidate and losing the race to a Democrat in 2008, that’s a message Republican Party insiders in New Mexico were apparently ready to hear in 2012.
The NRCC is going to have to rethink CD1
Arnold-Jones’ win was even more noteworthy because she had done little leading up to her preprimary win to make clear that she was the frontrunner or even a serious challenger to Lewis. Most notably, she lagged in fundraising.
She needs to start raising serious cash now to have a shot at winning in June, but the preprimary could give her the momentum to do just that.
Lewis has been the clear favorite of the Washington Republican infrastructure. The fundraising arm of Republicans in the U.S. House, the National Republican Congressional Committee, recently labeled him “on the radar” and a participant in its “Young Guns” program that attempts to elect new Republicans to Congress. The NRCC’s chairman, Pete Sessions, has said the NRCC is “looking forward to working with Dan Lewis, who has already proven himself by meeting rigorous benchmarks in the ‘Young Guns’ program that will position his campaign for victory.”
The NRCC is going to have to rethink things in New Mexico’s 1st District.
Wilson represented the 1st District for years, and some Republicans have argued only a moderate Republican will take the seat back. The frontrunner on the Democratic side is progressive Eric Griego, and some in the GOP were apparently worried about putting a right-leaning, socially conservative Republican up against him in a center-left district.
Arnold-Jones, a former state representative, has always had a passionate following, but it hasn’t been big enough to matter in a large-scale election – until now. Arnold-Jones told me she had worked hard to win over establishment Republicans and been successful. She was apparently right.
The champion of webcasting in the Roundhouse, who worked across the aisle often, now has a realistic shot at winning the nomination in what has historically been one of the hottest U.S. House races in the nation. But she has to start raising money immediately. We’ll know when the next fundraising reports are due in April if she got a boost from this win.
The Martinez factor
The 2010 election of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez may also have had an impact on New Mexico Republican insiders who gave the big victories to Wilson and Arnold-Jones. The governor remains popular among Republicans and New Mexicans in general and may have broken some barriers for women in the New Mexico GOP.
As former U.S. Rep. Wilson has proven, Albuquerque-area Republicans are willing to back women in the congressional race, but Martinez showed that Republicans from around the state were ready to elect a woman to the state’s top political job.
Pearce’s loss in 2008, coupled with Martinez’s success in the 2010 election and continuing popularity, might be pushing Republicans to give women and moderates more consideration than they gave Wilson in 2008.
Time will tell whether Republican primary voters agree, but the resounding victories by Wilson and Arnold-Jones at Saturday’s preprimary convention were strong statements from the party’s insiders.
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