Hein­rich cruises to re­elec­tion

Demo­crat ben­e­fits from split sup­port for Repub­li­can, Lib­er­tar­ian

The Taos News - - ELECTION 2018 - By An­drew Ox­ford aox­ford@sfnewmex­i­can.com

AL­BU­QUERQUE – It was not even close.

Sen. Martin Hein­rich cinched a sec­ond term Tues­day (Nov. 6) as his Repub­li­can and Lib­er­tar­ian op­po­nents split vot­ers, help­ing the Demo­crat to cruise to vic­tory boast­ing a lead as wide as 18 points over his near­est com­peti­tor.

But as Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son notched at least 15 per­cent of the vote, his show­ing sug­gested that an ap­petite ex­ists among a not in­signif­i­cant chunk of the elec­torate for al­ter­na­tives and third par­ties in New Mex­ico pol­i­tics. And as Repub­li­can Mick Rich claimed around 31 per­cent of the vote af­ter tack­ing to the right in re­cent months, the num­bers raised the ques­tion of how far can­di­dates could go in New Mex­ico by em­brac­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“I think vot­ers were re­ject­ing di­vi­sive­ness,” Hein­rich con­tended. He said that Rich cam­paign­ing with the likes of Trump ad­viser Steve Ban­non had back­fired.

“That brand of pol­i­tics is not very New Mex­i­can,” Hein­rich ar­gued af­ter claim­ing vic­tory at a roar­ing elec­tion night party in Al­bu­querque.

Hein­rich in­stead ar­gued vot­ers had shown they wanted to ex­pand health care and re­new­able en­ergy, pre­serve pub­lic lands and end what he called the pres­i­dent’s in­hu­mane im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

Per­haps the big­gest ap­plause came when he men­tioned cli­mate change, an is­sue that wasn’t dis­cussed in the race’s two tele­vised de­bates but distin­guished con­ser­va­tion­ist Hein­rich from his two op­po­nents.

In clas­sic form, Hein­rich brought his vic­tory speech to a close by pledg­ing to pro­tect So­cial Se­cu­rity, hit­ting the sort of not par­tic­u­larly sexy but tried-and-true line that the usu­ally staid sen­a­tor used to rally vot­ers and to set him­self apart in an era of bom­bas­tic pol­i­tics.

“New Mex­i­cans sent a mes­sage they want a work­horse, not a show horse,” Hein­rich told re­porters.

The race be­gan as a snoozer.

An Al­bu­querque con­trac­tor who had never run for of­fice, Rich was the only Repub­li­can to wade into the race against Hein­rich, who was sit­ting on a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar war chest head­ing into a year when Democrats ex­pected a wave of sup­port in New Mex­ico.

But over the sum­mer, with some ap­par­ently sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity to pose a real chal­lenge to the state’s ju­nior sen­a­tor, Lib­er­tar­ian Land Com­mis­sioner Aubrey Dunn bowed out to make way for John­son.

The en­trance of the head­line-grab­bing, two-time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in Au­gust made na­tional news and for a time, pres­sure mounted on Rich to drop out and let John­son take on Hein­rich head-to-head. In­deed, Hein­rich’s cam­paign seemed more con­cerned about John­son than Rich. For good rea­son. John­son di­rected his ap­peal squarely at the state’s bur­geon­ing ranks of in­de­pen­dent vot­ers. With his ar­gu­ments for fis­cal con­ser­vatism and over­haul­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity as well as his sup­port for le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana and with­draw­ing troops from overseas, John­son con­tended he would be a true in­de­pen­dent – a swing vote in a sharply di­vided Congress. Mean­while, as a for­mer GOP gov­er­nor, John­son was able to ap­peal to Repub­li­cans wary of their party’s di­rec­tion un­der Trump, whom he has called a liar on too many oc­ca­sions to count.

Mean­while, Rich took an in­creas­ingly con­ser­va­tive tack, of­fer­ing him­self as the can­di­date who would work with Trump.

And the money John­son was ex­pected to bring to the race did not seem to ma­te­ri­al­ize at the lev­els ob­servers had an­tic­i­pated.

All Hein­rich had to do was keep Democrats to­gether.

Call it bor­ing, call it timid or call it what was needed at a time when pol­i­tics is char­ac­ter­ized by con­stant cri­sis. What­ever the case, Hein­rich never ran a neg­a­tive tele­vi­sion ad. And he fo­cused on is­sues that are bread and but­ter for the Demo­cratic base: health care and So­cial Se­cu­rity.

He has signed on to leg­is­la­tion that would ex­pand Medi­care to ev­ery­one as well as a bill that would al­low pa­tients to buy into Med­i­caid. And he has ar­gued Repub­li­cans will try to use the im­pact of tax cuts Trump pushed last year to cut pro­grams such as So­cial Se­cu­rity.

In short, Hein­rich of­fered him­self as a bul­wark against Trump.

Plenty may call John­son a spoiler. But at a Lib­er­tar­ian Party gath­er­ing on Tues­day night, John­son ar­gued votes for him are not “throw­away votes.” In­stead, he rem­i­nisced about the long-shot third-party can­di­dates he had backed through­out his life, such as Lib­er­tar­ian David Ber­g­land over Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1984.

The votes mean some­thing, the for­mer gov­er­nor ar­gued.

“Peo­ple who voted Lib­er­tar­ian voted Lib­er­tar­ian for a rea­son,” John­son said.

Maybe, he said, the other big po­lit­i­cal par­ties should take these votes as a sign.

“Maybe the Repub­li­cans should re­ally think about bal­anc­ing the fed­eral bud­get,” he said. “Maybe the Democrats should rec­og­nize that they’re giv­ing away our fu­ture by con­tin­u­ing to spend more money than they take in.”

Luis Sánchez Saturno/The

U.S. Sen. Martin Hein­rich shakes hands with Tr­ish Ruiz of Hobbs af­ter ad­dress­ing a crowd of sup­port­ers Tues­day (Nov. 6) at Ho­tel Al­bu­querque at Old Town. New Mex­i­can

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