SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s a question she has batted away since before she took office, but speculation about Gov. Susana Martinez becoming the Republicans’ nominee for vice president just won’t stop, no matter how often she says “no.”
Political pundits say the first-term Republican governor could be an ideal running mate for the eventual GOP presidential nominee. They note she’s the nation’s first Hispanic female governor and say she could attract female and Hispanic voters who appear to favor President Barack Obama over presumptive Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
And politicos are quick to point out that a politician’s “no” doesn’t always hold true when a call from a presidential candidate comes. Think back to 2008 when then U.S. Sen. Joe Biden was asked whether he would take the vice president spot if asked by Obama. He replied: “No. I promise. No.”
But Martinez insists that when she says “no,” she means it.
Martinez told the Journal recently that her responsibility as guardian of her developmentally disabled sister, Lettie, in Las Cruces is one that she can’t take to Washington, D.C., regardless of who calls.
“The family has to be a consideration, and for me to take (my sister) to Washington would be to separate her from … the family that’s down there, and that would be devastating,” Martinez said. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Staying in Las Cruces allows Martinez’s 54-year-old sister to remain near their father, Jake, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and lives nearby in El Paso, Martinez said. Despite the Alzheimer’s, Martinez has said, her father has continued to recognize her sister.
Adding to her reasons to stay in New Mexico, the governor says she pledged a commitment to serving a full term as New Mexico’s chief executive and reaching her goals for the state before “jumping ship.”
That means accomplishing an agenda that includes improving New Mexico schools, developing the state economy and repealing a 2003 law that allows illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses, she has said.
“I can’t do this halfway and jump into something else. It would distract from what we have to do here,” Martinez said.
Martinez has been throwing water on the vice presidential speculation since before her January 2011 inauguration.
In an interview a month after her November 2010 election, then-district attorney Martinez said leaving the state in 2012 to become a candidate for vice president would cause doubt among the young New Mexican girls who look up to the governor as a role model partly because of her commitment to the job.
“If I don’t do this (job as governor) right, then what are they going to think of me and the path that I’ve paved for them?” Martinez said.
CNN’s Candy Crowley recently highlighted Martinez’s suitability for the job because she has “a trifecta of political assets: female, Hispanic and a swing state governor.”
Crowley, however, said Martinez might be docked for her limited experience as governor and low national recognition, factors that hurt Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.
Former New Mexico governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson hit on similar concerns about Martinez’s limited political experience, saying in an interview with the online news site Politico last week that selecting Martinez would be a “Palin-esque” mistake.
As speculation over the vice presidential pick heats up, the Governor’s Office in Santa Fe is fielding requests about her interest in the job. Some national media claim Martinez’s staff has stopped returning phone calls when they try to inquire whether Martinez has changed her mind, but Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said that’s not true.
While the governor has declined invitations to appear on national talk shows based in New York or Washington, D.C., Martinez “tries to accommodate national media when possible,” Darnell said, citing recent interviews with The New York Times, The New Republic and National Review.
The national talk of vice presidency has led some Martinez critics in New Mexico to ramp up what they call an effort to “vet” the governor and cast her as unfit for national office.
A Santa Fe branch of the Communication Workers of America union, for example, is framing Martinez as a supporter of out-of-state corporations after her veto of a bill that would have closed a state tax loophole for big-box stores operating in New Mexico.
“By consistent overreaching, pushing for an unyielding pro-corporate and anti-worker policy agenda, Gov. Martinez is stepping all over her best potential political asset as someone who can expand the Republicans’ reach beyond conservatives,” the group wrote last week on a new anti-Martinez website.
But recent polling underscores the benefits a vice presidential nominee like Martinez could bring to the Republican ticket.
A recent Gallup/USA Today poll showed Romney trailing Obama by 18 percentage points among female voters in New Mexico and 11 other swing states, on the heels of Romney’s recent comments about limiting access to women’s contraception.
Romney alienated some Hispanic voters with his opposition to programs that would allow a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, such as the DREAM Act, which would create special considerations for illegal immigrant students who earn a degree from a U.S. college.
Martinez has stayed quiet on most national issues, tending to issues closer to home, although she recently said she and the Obama administration are on the same page when it comes to school reform. She has not endorsed Romney or any other GOP presidential candidate but has said she will support the Republican nominee after the party’s national convention in August.
Like Martinez, other Republican Hispanic politicians often named on the “short list” for a vice presidential nod, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have said they’re not interested.
Another Hispanic Republican often noted as a worthy VP pick, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, said last week that the party would be served well by either Rubio or Martinez as vice president.