NM GOP starts blame game in wake of blue wave

Cur­rent lead­er­ship at odds with Martinez fac­tion af­ter losses

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOYD

SANTA FE — Long-sim­mer­ing ten­sions within the New Mex­ico Repub­li­can Party bub­bled over this week af­ter an Elec­tion Day that saw GOP can­di­dates gen­er­ally fare poorly, with sev­eral loy­al­ists to Gov. Su­sana Martinez’s po­lit­i­cal ma­chine lash­ing out at cur­rent state GOP lead­ers.

In so­cial me­dia posts, for­mer Martinez staffers ap­peared to blame party lead­ers and in­di­vid­u­als con­nected with Repub­li­can Yvette Her­rell’s cam­paign for a rare Demo­cratic vic­tory in the south­ern New Mex­i­cobased 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

Demo­crat Xo­chitl Tor­res Small was de­clared the pro­jected win­ner of the seat — held by Repub­li­cans for all but two years

since 1981 — fol­low­ing a count of more than 8,000 ab­sen­tee bal­lots in Doña Ana County on Wed­nes­day.

Shortly af­ter Tor­res Small’s pro­jected vic­tory was an­nounced, for­mer Martinez spokesman Joseph Cueto tweeted that “change is needed ASAP” in state GOP lead­er­ship.

Sev­eral other Martinez cam­paign alumni voiced sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments.

In re­sponse, some of those crit­i­cized say the fin­ger-point­ing amounts to sour grapes.

Her­rell, a state law­maker from Alam­ogordo, de­feated for­mer state GOP chair­man Monty New­man in the June pri­mary elec­tion, and sev­eral of the for­mer Martinez cam­paign aides who were out­spo­ken on so­cial me­dia this week — in­clud­ing Cueto — worked for New­man dur­ing the pri­mary cy­cle. Martinez’s po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Jay McCleskey helped with New­man’s pri­mary bid.

An­drea Goff, a se­nior ad­viser and fundraiser for GOP gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee Steve Pearce who also helped Her­rell’s cam­paign dur­ing the pri­mary elec­tion, told the Jour­nal that more sup­port from Martinez in the gen­eral elec­tion might have made a dif­fer­ence in the hard­fought south­ern New Mex­ico con­gres­sional race, which fea­tured big spend­ing by out­side groups.

She also said she had been made aware that the White House wanted Martinez, the state’s two-term out­go­ing gover­nor, to be more sup­port­ive of Repub­li­can can­di­dates in this year’s race, specif­i­cally Her­rell and Pearce.

When U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence trav­eled to Roswell on Oct. 26 to hold a cam­paign rally for Pearce and Her­rell, Martinez showed up at the Roswell air­port to greet the vice pres­i­dent but left the site be­fore the rally be­gan, Goff said.

Pearce ul­ti­mately lost in the gover­nor’s race, with Demo­crat Michelle Lu­jan Grisham get­ting more than 57 per­cent of the votes cast in the con­test.

“I take the loss along with the team, know­ing we worked hard and with in­tegrity to bet­ter the state,” Goff added.

While pub­licly sup­port­ing Pearce and Her­rell dur­ing this year’s gen­eral elec­tion cy­cle, Martinez did not cam­paign for ei­ther can­di­date. She also ap­peared to crit­i­cize Her­rell in a June in­ter­view.

“I’m cer­tainly go­ing to sup­port our Repub­li­can,” Martinez told the Jour­nal at the time. “But I think there are some ques­tions with ref­er­ence to her abil­ity to … rep­re­sent New Mex­ico in a fair and rea­son­able way.”

Mean­while, cur­rent state GOP chair­man Ryan Can­gi­olosi, who was among those crit­i­cized, said Repub­li­cans faced head­winds in this year’s gen­eral elec­tion due to a po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that fa­vored Democrats, but pointed out they ac­tu­ally voted at a higher rate than Democrats statewide.

How­ever, Democrats turned out in high num­bers, too, and en­tered this year’s elec­tion cy­cle with a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage in reg­is­tered vot­ers, lead­ing to their clean sweep of statewide races.

Democrats also won all three New Mex­ico con­gres­sional seats and ap­pear on track to pick up eight seats in the state House, pend­ing likely au­to­matic re­counts in two races.

“Our can­di­dates, as well as an army of faith­ful vol­un­teers through­out the state, fought hard to ad­vance Repub­li­can prin­ci­ples and beat the odds,” Can­gi­olosi told the Jour­nal. “They should be thanked and hon­ored, not crit­i­cized by those who chose to sit on the side­lines or sup­port the Democrats.”

In­tra-party strife has roiled the New Mex­ico Repub­li­can Party in re­cent years, even with Martinez win­ning two terms as gover­nor and Repub­li­cans win­ning con­trol of the state House in 2014 for the first time in 60 years. Democrats re­claimed a ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber two years later.

Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee­man Har­vey Yates Jr., has been among those crit­i­ciz­ing Martinez’s gov­ern­ing style and McCleskey’s cam­paign tac­tics.

McCleskey, who en­gi­neered Martinez’s suc­cess­ful 2010 run for gover­nor and her 2014 re-elec­tion bid, told the Jour­nal that fac­ing chal­leng­ing po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ments is noth­ing new for Repub­li­cans in New Mex­ico.

“The dif­fer­ence is the Martinez-led po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion planned and pre­pared for th­ese chal­lenges in the past, in or­der to achieve suc­cesses in spite of them,” McCleskey said. “This year, the state Repub­li­can party sim­ply rolled over, and that lack of ef­fort and in­com­pe­tence is why Repub­li­cans got crushed up and down the bal­lot.”

McCleskey, who has also done po­lit­i­cal work for the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, said Her­rell never asked for Martinez’s help with her con­gres­sional cam­paign.

He also faced chal­lenges in this year’s elec­tion cy­cle, as all four judges ap­pointed by Martinez to the Court of Ap­peals lost in the Tues­day gen­eral elec­tion, de­spite McCleskey’s help in their cam­paigns.

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