Two Women Compete For Governor Post In New Mexico

Last week in New Mexico, Republicans elected Susana Martinez as their gubernatorial nominee. That marks the first time a Latina has been nominated for governor by either of the two major political parties in the U.S. Martinez will face off with Democratic nominee Diane Denish in the state’s general election. The pairing marks only the third woman-against-woman general election race for governor in history. Lonna Atkeson, who leads the Center for the Study of Voting and Elections and Democracy at the University of New Mexico, discusses the historic gubernatorial race.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We also want to take note of another primary race that made history. Now, we've been focusing a lot in this last conversation on women candidates. It was also an important moment for Latino candidates. In Nevada, the incumbent Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, lost to Hispanic candidate Brian Sandoval. But we're going to focus on New Mexico.

Last week, Republicans nominated Susana Martinez as their nominee for governor and marks the first time a Latina has been nominated for governor by either of the two major political parties in the United States. I just want to play a short clip of her victory speech.

(Soundbite of speech)

Ms. SUSANA MARTINEZ (Republican, New Mexico; GOP Nominee): My friends, we are one step closer to taking New Mexico back.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: You got it.

Ms. MARTINEZ: With the outcome tonight, we have said no to the status quo in Santa Fe.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. MARTINEZ: We have said no to the corruption that has cheated New Mexico of the integrity it deserves.

MARTIN: Joining us more to talk about this historic campaign is Lonna Atkeson. She's a political science professor at the University of New Mexico. Thank you for joining us.

Professor LONNA ATKESON (Political Science, University of New Mexico): Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, as we mentioned, she, Susana Martinez is that state's GOP nominee. She's the district attorney for Dona Ana County. What else do we know about her?

Prof. ATKESON: She's been a district attorney for, I believe, three terms. She is sort of from the southern New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, I believe she was raised in El Paso and then moved to New Mexico sometime in the '80s. There's a lot of movement between sort of those areas in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

MARTIN: Now, she will face another woman in the general election. The Democratic nominee is Diane what is it, Denish?

Prof. ATKESON: Denish.

MARTIN: Denish. And so this is the third woman against woman general election race for governor in history. Is gender an issue here? Or - to having two women candidates taken off the table in essence?

Prof. ATKESON: I think it sort of takes it off the table in some ways. I mean, obviously it can't be a factor for people's vote choice in particular, either for or against a woman. So they both have that. It's a constant in the election. So I don't see that as a particular issue except in sort of how they campaign and how they decide to deal with that. And I do believe that having women candidates on the ticket does mobilize and motivate women voters. So I think that that's good.

MARTIN: Did Martinez reference her ethnicity at all or the historic nature of her candidates, the fact that she is the first Latina nominated for governor? Was that an issue? Was it interesting?

Prof. ATKESON: No. I haven't...

MARTIN: Was it is even discussed?

Prof. ATKESON: No. I haven't heard her discuss it that way. In fact, if anything, she sort of downplays that aspect of it. I mean, she's a female, you know, Hispanic Latina and she is coming out really strong on a anti-immigration campaign, which I think is an interesting twist there.

MARTIN: What about New Mexico Republicans also made history by nominating an all-Latino ticket? John Sanchez, a 2002 gubernatorial candidate will serve as running mate to Martinez for lieutenant governor. Has that been discussed at all?

Prof. ATKESON: No. I don't think that we've discussed that. But we've often, you know, we're New Mexico and, you know, Hispanics have been a part of our political history and our political landscape for a long time. And so, you know, that's certainly not the first time we've seen that kind of contest.

MARTIN: And, finally, the is it of interest that a lot of the strides in these nominations have been made on the Republican side. Obviously Bill Richardson is Latino. He made history as a Latino presidential candidate, as well as he would have liked, certainly. But the fact that a number of these nominations are on the Republican side, is that of interest to the political establishment?

Prof. ATKESON: I think it should be. I think it should be, and I think that New Mexico, given our long history, really talks about the future and Latinos integrating into both parties. They don't belong to either party. They have a lot of varied interests, a lot of varied beliefs within the group. And so of course they're attracted to different parties based upon their individual values. We can't think of them as sort of a single group who's a voting bloc necessarily.

MARTIN: Lonna Atkeson is the director of the Center for the Study of Voting and Elections and Democracy at the University of New Mexico. And she was kind enough to join us from her home in Santa Fe. I thank you so much for speaking to us.

Prof. ATKESON: Oh, thank you so much.

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