Here’s one I didn’t see coming but probably should have. In New Mexico, Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich is up for election this November but there’s a lot of interest in replacing him. The seat leans Democratic, but Heinrich only won his first Senate race there by a 51-45 margin so it’s not entirely a lock. He’s facing Republican Mick Rich, but the picture became considerably more cloudy when Libertarian candidate (and former Governor) Gary Johnson entered the race. How much of an impact a third party spoiler would have and who he would siphon more votes from has been the main topic of conversation since he announced and now we have some polling which hints at the answers. Johnson still isn’t favored to win, but he’s sucking a lot of oxygen out of the room and holds a considerable lead over the GOP candidate. (The Hill)
Libertarian Party Senate candidate Gary Johnson is polling at 21 percent in New Mexico, behind Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) but nearly twice the support shown for GOP candidate Mick Rich in the poll.
Heinrich won 39 percent, but Rich only polled at 11 percent in the Emerson College poll released on Monday.
Johnson has high name recognition in the state. He’s a former governor and won attention for his presidential run in 2016.
21% isn’t going to win you a Senate seat, but it’s definitely enough to massively warp the race. And while Heinrich might find it a bit embarrassing to limp over the finish line without even cracking the 40% mark, a win is still a win and I’m sure he’d take it.
Here’s the sad aspect of this story if you happen to be a conservative. It’s easy to forget after his 2016 presidential run, but Gary Johnson hasn’t always been a Libertarian. He was a Republican for years and ran as a member of the GOP when he served as governor from 1995 to 2003. If he had simply returned to the fold after 2016 and ran in the GOP Senate primary this year he’d probably have taken the nomination in a walk. And looking at the combined support for both Johnson and Rich, it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that Gary Johnson would be polling pretty much even with Heinrich right now.
The current polling indicates that nearly a third of New Mexico voters haven’t made up their minds yet, but unless they all break massively towards one candidate (unlikely in the extreme) we’re probably looking at a very anemic plurality victory for the eventual winner. In a two-person race that could have been a very different picture. But absent any sort of change, the Republicans’ longshot hopes of flipping another blue seat appear to be quickly evaporating.