Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Long-simmering tensions within the New Mexico Republican Party bubbled over this week after an Election Day that saw GOP candidates generally fare poorly, with several loyalists to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political machine lashing out at current state GOP leaders.
In social media posts, former Martinez staffers appeared to blame party leaders and individuals connected with Republican Yvette Herrell’s campaign for a rare Democratic victory in the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District.
Democrat Xochitl Torres Small was declared the projected winner of the seat – held by Republicans for all but two years since 1981 – following a count of more than 8,000 absentee ballots in Doña Ana County on Wednesday.
Shortly after Torres Small’s projected victory was announced, former Martinez spokesman Joseph Cueto tweeted that “change is needed ASAP” in state GOP leadership.
Several other Martinez campaign alumni voiced similar sentiments.
In response, some of those criticized say the finger-pointing amounts to sour grapes.
Herrell, a state lawmaker from Alamogordo, defeated former state GOP chairman Monty Newman in the June primary election, and several of the former Martinez campaign aides who were outspoken on social media this week – including Cueto – worked for Newman during the primary cycle. Martinez’s political adviser Jay McCleskey helped with Newman’s primary bid.
Andrea Goff, a senior adviser and fundraiser for GOP gubernatorial nominee Steve Pearce who also helped Herrell’s campaign during the primary election, told the Journal that more support from Martinez in the general election might have made a difference in the hard-fought southern New Mexico congressional race, which featured big spending by outside groups.
She also said she had been made aware that the White House wanted Martinez, the state’s two-term outgoing governor, to be more supportive of Republican candidates in this year’s race, specifically Herrell and Pearce.
When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Roswell on Oct. 26 to hold a campaign rally for Pearce and Herrell, Martinez showed up at the Roswell airport to greet the vice president but left the site before the rally began, Goff said.
Pearce ultimately lost in the governor’s race, with Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham getting more than 57 percent of the votes cast in the contest.
“I take the loss along with the team, knowing we worked hard and with integrity to better the state,” Goff added.
While publicly supporting Pearce and Herrell during this year’s general election cycle, Martinez did not campaign for either candidate. She also appeared to criticize Herrell in a June interview.
“I’m certainly going to support our Republican,” Martinez told the Journal at the time. “But I think there are some questions with reference to her ability to … represent New Mexico in a fair and reasonable way.”
Meanwhile, current state GOP chairman Ryan Cangiolosi, who was among those criticized, said Republicans faced headwinds in this year’s general election due to a political climate that favored Democrats, but pointed out they actually voted at a higher rate than Democrats statewide.
However, Democrats turned out in high numbers, too, and entered this year’s election cycle with a significant advantage in registered voters, leading to their clean sweep of statewide races.
Democrats also won all three New Mexico congressional seats and appear on track to pick up eight seats in the state House, pending likely automatic recounts in two races.
“Our candidates, as well as an army of faithful volunteers throughout the state, fought hard to advance Republican principles and beat the odds,” Cangiolosi told the Journal. “They should be thanked and honored, not criticized by those who chose to sit on the sidelines or support the Democrats.”
Intra-party strife has roiled the New Mexico Republican Party in recent years, even with Martinez winning two terms as governor and Republicans winning control of the state House in 2014 for the first time in 60 years. Democrats reclaimed a majority in the chamber two years later.
Republican National Committeeman Harvey Yates Jr., has been among those criticizing Martinez’s governing style and McCleskey’s campaign tactics.
McCleskey, who engineered Martinez’s successful 2010 run for governor and her 2014 re-election bid, told the Journal that facing challenging political environments is nothing new for Republicans in New Mexico.
“The difference is the Martinez-led political operation planned and prepared for these challenges in the past, in order to achieve successes in spite of them,” McCleskey said. “This year, the state Republican party simply rolled over, and that lack of effort and incompetence is why Republicans got crushed up and down the ballot.”
McCleskey, who has also done political work for the Republican Governors Association, said Herrell never asked for Martinez’s help with her congressional campaign.
He also faced challenges in this year’s election cycle, as all four judges appointed by Martinez to the Court of Appeals lost in the Tuesday general election, despite McCleskey’s help in their campaigns.