Susana Martinez possesses enormous political skill. But will she answer the call?
New Mexico’s Republican governor became the first woman to hold that office after winning in 2010 on a conservative platform to overhaul Santa Fe. The charismatic former district attorney won a state in which Republicans are outnumbered 3-to-1, and she managed to close her first year in office with approval ratings topping 50 percent despite constant battling with the Democratic Legislature.
That’s one reason she already tops speculative vice presidential short lists, and why voters will almost certainly see her play a prominent role as the 2012 campaign plays out in her swing state this fall.
The eventual Republican presidential nominee is likely to come calling for some additional reasons: Martinez is female and Hispanic, and she could be an effective surrogate as the GOP tries to oust President Barack Obama by targeting those key demographics. The governor has been making the case for conservatism even though her state is composed mainly of Democrats and independents, who make up 50 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the New Mexico electorate.
Martinez advisers said in a recent interview that the governor would avail herself to the GOP nominee. But it remains unclear how much of her political capital she is willing to spend to help Republicans win New Mexico and to help the party make inroads with Latino and female voters in battlegrounds where they could be decisive, including Colorado, Florida and Nevada. President George W. Bush won New Mexico in 2004; Obama won the state in 2008.
“She is going to focus foremost on those who elected her,” a Martinez aide said. “But it goes without saying that she’ll work to help elect the party’s nominee.”
Martinez will not endorse in the Republican primary and categorically rules out accepting a bid to join the GOP ticket. Her aides say she won’t change her mind.
She has kept a low profile in the primary contest compared to some of her Republican colleagues — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and has eschewed the media spotlight. Republican Govs. Jan Brewer in Arizona and John Kasich of Ohio are regular fixtures on the Fox News Channel, for example.
But Martinez has not ignored national Republican politics completely. She serves on the executive committee of the Republican Governors Association and is a member of the board of advisers for the Future Majority Project, a subsidiary of the Republican State Leadership Committee charged with recruiting more Hispanics and women to run for office.
Heath Haussamen, editor and publisher of NMPolitics.net, an online publication covering New Mexico politics, said Martinez has grown into the job as governor and appears comfortable with her role as a prominent Republican Hispanic woman. Although Martinez could stay quiet until New Mexico’s 2012 legislative session concludes, most likely in the spring, Haussamen expects her to embrace the national spotlight and work hard to deliver the state’s five electoral votes.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.