Heinrich cruises to reelection
Democrat benefits from split support for Republican, Libertarian
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.”
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