NM gets say in marathon Clinton-Sanders race

Morgan Lee
The Associated Press
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton stumps for his wife, Hillary Clinton, during a rally on Monday at Picacho Middle School in Las Cruces.

SANTA FE — The marathon nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is culminating Tuesday at New Mexico precincts and voting centers, from the state’s border with Mexico to the Navajo Nation and the Liberal-leaning enclaves of Santa Fe and Taos.

Ordinarily presidential nominations in both parties are settled by the time New Mexico votes in the final round of state primaries.

This year, the state has seen a flurry of campaign visits from Sanders and Bill Clinton on behalf of his wife. A raucous rally by presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in May touched off a riot by protesters gathered outside the downtown Albuquerque venue.

“The presidential primary in New Mexico is relevant,” said Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff. “Bernie Sanders is still actively campaigning and wants to amass as many delegates as possible for the Democratic National Convention.”

Democrats dominate New Mexico voter registration rolls and will send 43 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Hillary Clinton leads the Vermont senator with pledged delegates tied to voters and superdelegates, the party leaders who can back the candidate of their choice.

To prevail, Sanderoff said, Sanders would need to translate interest among young voters into a significant increase in turnout and win over areas such as Taos County where nearly eight in 10 registered voters are Democrats.

Clinton has earned endorsements from many of the state’s top Democratic officials and power brokers, from U.S. senators to small town mayors and the heads of major teacher unions.

Both Clinton and Sanders campaigns have made direct appeals to Native American communities and Hispanics voters, who are expected to cast more than half of Democratic primary ballots. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stumped on behalf of Clinton for Hispanic voters across the state.

Seven out of New Mexico’s nine superdelegates back the former U.S. secretary of state, while two remain uncommitted. That leaves 34 pledged delegates at stake in Tuesday balloting, with New Mexico overshadowed by higher-stakes votes in California and New Jersey.

Support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is on prominent display on May 18 at Santa Fe Hemp in downtown Santa Fe. Store owner Kathlene Savage has sold thousands of bumper stickers and T-shirts tagged with Sanders policy talking points.

Campaigning in New Mexico, Sanders complained bitterly about Clinton’s superdelegate advantage as he sought more pledged delegates.

“The establishment determined who the anointed candidate would be before the first voters got into the process,” he said. “If we do very, very well in New Mexico and California and other states on June 7, my hope is that we end this process with 50 percent, plus one” of the pledged delegates.

In the Republican presidential primary, Trump shares the ballot with five other candidates who never removed their names. Twenty-four GOP delegates are awarded on a proportional basis to candidates who get at least 15 percent of the vote.

In other races, two Republicans are competing for the nomination to challenge four-term U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-Santa Fe. Retired law enforcement officer Michael Romero of Vadito is running against Michael Lucero of Jemez Pueblo, who works for a security contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Lucero comes from a ranching family that gained attention for pushing back against Forest Service grazing restrictions designed to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. Romero has campaigned against what he sees as regulatory overreach by the federal government.

The winner can expect an uphill battle to win an expansive northern New Mexico congressional district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1.

State legislative candidates from both major parties are jockeying to compete in fall elections that determine which party controls New Mexico’s House of Representative and Senate. As few as three legislative seats could change the balance of power in each chamber and shape the fate of conservative policy initiatives from Gov. Susana Martinez in the closing two years of her administration.

Republicans currently control the House, 37-33, and Democrats control the Senate, 24-18.

There are 14 contested primaries in the House, and nine in the Senate. Nine incumbent Democrats — five in the House and four in the Senate — are facing primary challenges.