Susana Martinez has generated very little buzz over her long-term prospects, but expect that to change in a hurry after the election next week. Already tremendously popular in Democrat-tilting New Mexico during her first term, Martinez has a 15-point lead over challenger Gary King with eight days to go. The Albuquerque Journal finds that the Republican incumbent wins a majority of women and independents, and even gets 28% of Democrats to back her re-election bid:
Fifty-three percent of likely voters said they would vote, or already had voted, for Martinez, who is seeking a second term. Thirty-eight percent said they would back the two-term attorney general in the New Mexico race for governor. Nine percent of voters were undecided. Absentee voting for the Nov. 4 election began Oct. 7. …
In the latest survey, Martinez continued to demonstrate strength as a Republican – winning support from large numbers of Democratic voters.
Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in New Mexico voter registration 47 percent to 31 percent, while independents, or voters who decline to state (DTS) a party affiliation, represent 19 percent.
Among Democrats, more than one in four – 28 percent – said they supported the Republican governor over King. Sixty-three percent of Democrats said they supported King.
Jim Geraghty sits up and takes notice:
Susana Martinez is probably going to turn in the Republican party’s biggest win in the least GOP-friendly state in the entire 2014 cycle. A lot of Republicans will be hoping their 2016 nominee or ticket can emulate that ability.
Rather than emulate it, they may be looking for Martinez to take it herself. So far, the news about 2016 has mostly focused on Beltway insiders from the Senate or retreads like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Bush hasn’t run for President yet, but his family has three terms over the last 26 years and Republican grassroots have not had much enthusiasm for a return to the Bush brand. Nor, despite the headlines they generate, will the GOP likely rest its presidential hopes on first-term Senators, no matter how popular they are in their current positions.
The governors come out later in the cycle, in part because they have to keep their heads down to win re-election in midterm years. For some, that’s out of sheer necessity. Scott Walker has a great track record of reform in Wisconsin and gets plenty of 2016 notice, but he’s in a dead heat against Mary Burke with a week to go, too. He has to win to be viable in 2016. Bobby Jindal already secured his re-election and gets mention for his unabashed conservative approach to reform, along with a track record that at least equals Walker for innovation and success.
Martinez has kept her profile low for strategic reasons, although she had a key slot in the 2012 Republican convention and opened a lot of eyes about her prospects for higher office. Any Republican winning two terms in a Democratic state like New Mexico would get presidential-politics notice, but Martinez offers Republicans a chance to put a woman in charge of the party and articulate conservative approaches to reform in a way that will transcend Democratic demagoguery on the “war on women.” She will have a solid track record in governance — more than the Senators who might be thinking about a primary charge will have — plus appeal to demographics that Republicans have not succeeded in reaching very well.
One key to watch after the election will be how hard the media starts vetting Martinez. If progressives see her as a credible threat to their hopes in winning a third White House term in a row, expect media scrutiny on the Wasilla/tanning-bed level. How Martinez handles that pressure will be key to her hopes of winning a spot on the Republican ticket, and whether it’s the top spot. But make no mistake — expect to see Martinez in the mix, and potentially a standout in the field.