And Now for Something Completely Different

Posted November 5, 2008 at 4:51pm

With Tuesday’s election, the stunning political transformation of New Mexico is complete.

The Land of Enchantment now has an all-Democratic Congressional delegation. It has new Members in all three House seats and a new Senator to replace legendary six-term Sen. Pete Domenici (R).

Rep. Tom Udall (D) handily defeated Rep. Steve Pearce (R) in the race for Domenici’s seat — and the irony is, Udall almost didn’t run.

While both Pearce and Rep. Heather Wilson — who lost the GOP primary to Pearce in June — jumped into the Senate race soon after Domenici’s retirement announcement, Udall waited several weeks and watched as other Democrats got into the fray. Only after being pushed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), did Udall decide to run, clearing the Democratic field in the process.

Udall will now join his cousin, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), in the Senate come January. Mark Udall won his race Tuesday as well; he and his cousin also entered the House together a decade ago.

With all three New Mexico House Members making Senate bids, voters elected three new Members on Tuesday — and two of those races were quite competitive. In the Albuquerque-based 1st district, which Wilson has represented since early 1998, former Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich broke the Democrats’ 40-year losing streak, topping Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R).

In Pearce’s southern New Mexico 2nd district, Harry Teague (D), an oil man and former Lea County commissioner, defeated another wealthy businessman, restaurateur Ed Tinsley (R).

Both men won hard-fought primaries in June, and Tinsley was favored at the outset. He was the runner-up to Pearce in the 2002 House primary, and the 2nd district, though it has more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, is highly conservative and tends to vote Republican in federal elections.

But Tinsley did not run as strong a campaign as Republicans had hoped, and Teague repeatedly tried to emphasize his conservative credentials.

Udall’s 3rd district, a Democratic stronghold, will be represented by New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Luján (D) — the son of the state’s powerful Speaker, Ben Luján (D).

While New Mexico was undergoing a radical change, it was a lot quieter in the rest of the region. Republicans picked up one House seat in Texas, but Democrats countered that by picking up a House seat in Arizona.

Texas had several close and closer-than-expected races. On an otherwise tough night for Republicans, the GOP could at least rejoice in ousting Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who won the seat of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) in something of a fluke in 2006. Pete Olson (R), a former top aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), defeated Lampson in a heavily Republican district, 53 percent to 45 percent.

Races involving Republican Reps. John Culberson and Michael McCaul were closer than the GOP would have liked, though the incumbents prevailed. And in a race that Republicans had once hoped to make close, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) easily beat Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson (R).

In the Senate race, Cornyn won a second term, but despite heavily outspending his Democratic challenger, he essentially duplicated his 2002 showing, taking 55 percent to state Rep. Rick Noriega’s (D) 43 percent.

In Arizona, Sen. John McCain’s (R) coattails proved to be very short: The Democrats picked up an open House seat, and Republicans were unable to knock off two freshman Democrats representing GOP-leaning districts.

In the sprawling 1st district, former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) easily defeated anti-tax activist Sydney Hay (R) in the race to replace indicted and departing Rep. Rick Renzi (R). Republicans had high hopes of holding the seat when Renzi announced his retirement, but they could not find a top-tier candidate, and when it became apparent that Hay was going to be their nominee the race was never truly engaged.

In the 5th district, Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) beat former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert (R) in a district that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $1.3 million to defend. In the Tucson-based 8th district, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) easily won a second term over state Senate President Tim Bee, a top National Republican Congressional Committee recruit.

Both Mitchell and Giffords flipped Republican-held seats in 2006; Mitchell is a genial and popular former mayor of Tempe, and Giffords has turned out to be a prodigious fundraiser. So both should be able to hold on to their seats for the foreseeable future.

Republicans ran scared in the Phoenix-area 3rd district, where Rep. John Shadegg (R) seemed like he might fall to attorney Bob Lord (D) despite the conservative bent of his district. Shadegg announced his retirement earlier this year, only to change his mind several days later. That didn’t help his cause, and neither did his less-than-energetic campaign. The DCCC spent $2 million on Lord’s behalf, but Shadegg still prevailed by 11 points.

There were no competitive House races in Oklahoma this year. In the Sooner State Senate race, Sen. James Inhofe (R) topped state Sen. Andrew Rice (D) by an 18-point margin. Senate Democrats thought Rice had some potential, but Inhofe successfully painted him as too liberal to represent the state on Capitol Hill.