By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – First, People magazine, in a story about the relationship between Gov. Susana Martinez and her developmentally disabled sister, said Martinez doesn’t have “a serious 2014 re-election challenger in sight.”
Then, last week, a story from Politico about various gubernatorial races across the country mentioned Martinez, along with New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, saying they “all look poised to win, possibly without breaking a sweat.”
That’s got to irritate the two New Mexico Democrats who have already declared their intentions to unseat Martinez and are already hitting the campaign trail across the state.
“Well, I don’t read People magazine,” New Mexico Attorney General Gary King jokingly said to New Mexico Watchdog. “I’m aware that the governor has gotten some nice personal accolades from some of those (publications), but the campaign is going to be about what’s happening in New Mexico and the fact that we’ve fallen to 50th in everything good for children.”
“Wait ’til I get on the full campaign trail and win the Democratic primary,” state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said in a telephone interview. “Oh yeah, there will be a very serious challenger.”
For going on two years now, Martinez has enjoyed approval ratings in the 60 percent range — one of the highest among any governor in the country — and two months ago she raised a reported $220,000 at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., to bolster her re-election effort.
“I don’t know what some of the political pundits will think is a serious campaign, but New Mexicans are going to realize that they need someone who cares about their well-being,” said King, who declared his candidacy more than a year ago and has raised $251,000 so far. “I have a really good track record with that, and I think we’ll be able to bring that out.”
“What this administration is doing right now is decimating our state,” said Lopez, who has been a harsh critic of Martinez. The governor has criticized Lopez for not having an up or down confirmation vote on Public Education secretary-designate Hanna Skandera in the Senate Rules Committee, which Lopez chairs.
“There is no job creation, no matter how may tax credits we give, it does not create jobs,” Lopez said. “This whole issue about what we do as a state as a place to raise your child, we’ve dropped from 48th to 50th under her leadership.”
Lopez, who declared her candidacy in April, isn’t due to file campaign contributions until next month. She didn’t give a ballpark figure, but said contributions are in “the thousands” and “my campaign is still in its infancy.”
While King and Lopez chase potential voters, the field of potential Martinez challengers may expand.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez — whose antipathy for the Martinez administration may rival that of Lopez — might jump into the race. Last week, the 63-year-old told reporters he’ll make his announcement around Labor Day.
Another state senator — Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces — has been mentioned as a possible candidate but hasn’t discussed his plans with the media.
The Democratic primary won’t be held until next June, and the general election is still 14-plus months away.
In the meantime, Lopez spent last week at campaign events in Alamogordo and Deming while King attended a county fair parade in Lovington.
“The campaign is going great,” said Lopez. “Momentum is building. I’ve been out traveling the state this summer, just to introduce myself to Democrats from one end of the state to the other, and people are excited about my candidacy.”
Lopez ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 but finished in fourth in a five-candidate primary to Brian Colon, who ran as the running mate to Diane Denish, who lost to Martinez in the gubernatorial race.
“We’ve been out on the road a lot of times on the weekends, pressing the flesh and doing those campaign things that I learned do and enjoy traveling with my dad years ago,” said King, whose father, Bruce King, was a three-time governor of the state.
This isn’t the first time King has run for governor.
In 1998, King lost in the Democratic primary to Marty Chavez, who ended up losing in the governor’s race to Gary Johnson. In 2002, King declared his candidacy but dropped out before the primary. He ran for Congress in 2004 but lost badly to Republican Steve Pearce, 61 percent to 39 percent.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski