Swingers: New Mexico

Now that we’ve looked at two commonly-recognized swing states, we’ll get our first look at a state I’ve rated as a clear swing state that none of the pundits are even discussing.  We’re on to New Mexico – which the pundits have been calling a “safe” Obama territory despite the fact that it’s run by a Republican governor – a woman who has made a strong case to the 35% of the state’s registered voters who are Hispanic that you can be Hispanic and be Conservative without there being a conflict of interest.  Susana Martinez hasn’t just put Hispanics in play for Republicans, she’s gotten their plurality support.  Will Martinez have upward-lifting shoulder-pad support for Romney in November?  Can you build a conservative coalition in a state that, beyond all doubt, leans consistently (but only slightly) to the left of center?  Let’s have a look see, shall we?

We’re gonna do something a bit different here…we’re going to show you the three-cycle averages, colored by category and with the representative county marked as usual, and we’re going to show you what Obama did in 2008…but we’re also going to show you what Susana Martinez did in 2010, so you know what a winning Republican ticket in this state would look like:

First the three-cycle numbers:

Note that the marked county is Sandoval – one county north of Bernalillo (which contains Albuquerque). 
The swing counties:
  • Colfax (NE region – half Native American land, half hill country – very lightly populated)
  • Hidalgo (SW corner – sparse, underpopulated desert)
  • Los Alamos (tiny county near Albuquerque)
  • Luna (SW region, also very sparsely populated)
  • Sandoval (suburban Albuquerque – highest per capita income in the state)
  • Valencia (Southern Albuquerque suburb)
Conservative Base:
  • San Juan County (and…that’s about it…the rest are spread throughout the hill country and the desert)
Liberal Base:
  • Albuquerque
  • Santa Fe
  • Las Cruces

Now the 2008 wave election for Obama: 

Some key changes that favored Obama – all of the suburbs of Albuquerque and Santa Fe were solidly in Obama’s pocket as Hispanic turnout in these cities exploded (up 50-60% statewide, and moreso in the cities).  The contested north country, which houses Native American reservations which rarely turn out much of a vote, moved to the left as both Hispanic and Native American turnout improved dramatically.

Finally, let’s see how Susana Martinez put New Mexico back in the red:

Look at the remarkable change near the most heavily populated part of the state, include in the city of Albuquerque itself.  Rather than strongly backing the Democrat, Bernalillo was a swing county in 2010, and most of the Democrats’ advantage in the suburbs of Albuquerque and Santa Fe was erased.  It helps when you can get Hispanic voters to turn out and BACK you, rather than backing the other guy or merely not turning out.  Martinez won New Mexico by nearly 7 points…Bernalillo (Albuquerque) backed the Democrat by only a point or so, and the rest of the state moved the vote 8 points to the right.  Which tells you that, if all of your stars align and you can get the rest of the suburban counties to back you, Bernalillo can be neutralized, but you still can’t give up more than a handful of points there, much like in Clarke County, Nevada.

How about trends – why do the pundits consider New Mexico lost to Republicans in the general election?  Well, let’s see what the county by county breakdowns look like:

GROUP 1 (Very Conservative)

  • 2000: 34.3 (22.4%)
  • 2004: 30.4 (22/0%)
  • 2008: 36.6 (20.4%)

GROUP 2 (Leans Republican)

  • 2000: 38.8 (1.6%)
  • 2004: 37.5 (1.5%)
  • 2008: 44.6 (1.5%)

GROUP 3 (Swing Counties)

  • 2000: 47.7 (12.9%)
  • 2004: 46.7 (12.9%)
  • 2008: 55.1 (13.9%)

GROUP 4 (Leans Democratic)

  • 2000: 51.7 (46.1%)
  • 2004: 52.2 (46.0%)
  • 2008: 60.6 (46.5%)

GROUP 5 (Very Liberal)

  • 2000: (16.9%)
  • 2004: (17.7%)
  • 2008: (17.7%)
Sorry libs…I am not seeing New Mexico as a state that is undergoing a sudden transformation.  It looks, to me, like a state that has been for some time a slightly left of center swing state (due to a large left-leaning Hispanic population and a lack of large population centers to balance Albuquerque’s modest leftward pull) that can be won by a conservative if he or she has enough momentum or is facing a weak opponent.  It is hardly what I would call a safe Obama state.  The 2008 results look impressive at first blush, but it looks to me as though conservative voter enthusiasm was way down as there is little else to explain the sudden drop in the percentage of votes coming from conservative counties, especially when you note that Bernalillo’s turnout didn’t change much despite increased Hispanic voting.  The very liberal results of 2008 look like a blip to me when paired with the GOP’s comeback in 2010, though Romney does not have the pull on the Hispanic community that Martinez did (and still does).
Although I think Obama will carry this state…it does bear watching – if Romney continues to build on his excellent post-debate polling bounce and has a bunch of momentum come election night, the state could still be in play.
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