New Mexico Super PACs: Winners and Losers

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Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

But that single victory came at a cost.

Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate.

The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts. Currently, Republicans hold a 37-33 majority.

In the Senate, Democrats have at least a 25-17 margin, and a 26-16 margin if Sen. John Sapien wins a recount. They currently have a 24-18 edge.

A look at super PAC spending in New Mexico shows that union cash defeated oil and gas money.

It’s impossible to discern what those PACs spent on individual races because New Mexico law doesn’t require them to disclose independent spending on specific contests.

But examining some of the ads and literature sent by those PACs gives a sense of who they supported and opposed, and how.

Here’s a summary of the largest super PACs and how their support or opposition played into races that shape the 2017-18 Legislature:

Advance New Mexico Now

The super PAC operated by Martinez’s top political advisers, including consultant Jay McCleskey, did the heavy lifting in taking out Sanchez.

Advance New Mexico Now spent more than $370,000 airing TV ads opposing the majority leader, plus more on mailers and radio ads.

Advance reported spending more than $1.8 million in 2016 through Nov. 1, with a significant portion to McCleskey’s firm and plenty more to ad buyers and direct mail firms.

Much of the group’s money came from oil and gas, with 38 percent from Texas.

And it’s involvement in the House District 32 GOP primary may have cemented a win for Democrat Candie Sweetser in an open seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Dona Irwin.

In that primary, Advance sent a late flurry of mail opposing Scott Chandler, who was defeated by fellow Republican Vicki Chavez.

But that interference angered Luna County Republicans. Advance sent at least three negative mailers about Sweetser, but she won the seat with 51 percent of the vote.

Advance was a loser in at least two other contests it got involved in, and possibly a third:

  • Former Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Thomson returns to the House after a two year absence. Advance sent multiple mailers attacking her and supporting Republican Christina Hall.
  • GOP Rep. Paul Pacheco is headed to a recount with Democrat Daymon Ely, but the incumbent trails by 72 votes. This could be an extra seat for the Democratic House majority.
  • Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto defeated Republican Eric Burton in Albuquerque, despite attacks from Advance.

GOAL WestPAC

This federal super PAC, based in Texas but focused on New Mexico, expanded beyond its typical southern New Mexico contests.

GOAL West sent mailers and aired radio and TV ads in eight House races.

Only three won:

  • GOP House Majority Leader Nate Gentry fended off Democratic teacher Natalie Figueroa. But even with help from GOAL West, Gentry spent more than $360,000 through Nov. 1 to defend his seat. Now he’s in the minority.
  • GOP Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes held her Albuquerque seat against a challenge from Democrat Ane Romero.
  • Republican Rebecca Dow, of Truth or Consequences, defeated Democrat Mary Hotvedt, of Silver city, in an open seat currently held by Republican Rep. Dianne Hamilton.

GOAL West’s losses contributed to the Democratic House takeover:

  • The group opposed Thomson in her successful bid.
  • The group supported Chavez in her race against Sweetser.
  • Democrat Nathan Small defeated incumbent Rep. Andy Nunez in the Las Cruces area.
  • Democrat Joanne Ferrary defeated Rep. Terry McMillan in Las Cruces.
  • Former Democratic Rep. Rudy Martinez defeated Rep. John Zimmerman in southern New Mexico a third matchup between the two.

Patriot Majority New Mexico

This super PAC – funded by labor unions, its national parent nonprofit and a $100,000 donation from Everytown for Gun Safety – was the Democratic equivalent of Advance New Mexico Now, though the group didn’t focus as heavily on a single race.

And it didn’t win them all. Patriot Majority worked against Maestas Barnes, Gentry and Dow to no avail.

But the group took an active role in the following House wins and one potential win:

  • Thomson over Hall
  • Small over Nunez.
  • Ferrary over McMillan.
  • Martinez over Zimmerman
  • Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard as she successfully fended off GOP Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover.
  • Ely over Pacheco, where there’s a recount.

Verde Voters Fund

This super PAC affiliated with Conservation Voters New Mexico supported Democrats in a handful of contests based on environmental concerns.

That groups support likely contributed to the House takeover and the larger margin in the state Senate, with one loss and five wins.

  • The group opposed Hall and supported Thomson in House District 24 in Albuquerque, a seat gained by Democrats.
  • Verde Voters supported Ferrary and opposed McMillan in Las Cruces, another Democrat House takeover.
  • They supported Small and opposed Nunez in southern New Mexico, a third seat gained by Democrats.
  • They supported Richard in Los Alamos.
  • They supported Democratic Rep. Jeff Steinborn, who successfully defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Lee Cotter.
  • The group opposed Republican Candace Gould, who defeated Democrat David Simon for an open Senate seat in Albuquerque.

New Mexico Together

This super PAC funded by unions and other liberal interests focused on six Senate seats with mailers, TV and radio ads.

The only one they lost for sure was Sanchez’s.

Their wins and potential win:

  • Steinborn over Cotter.
  • Democrat Liz Stefanics over incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Barela.
  • Ivey-Soto over Burton.
  • Sen. William Soules held off Republican challenger Cecelia Levatino in Las Cruces.
  • Sapien has a 148-vote edge on Republican Diego Espinoza as the contest heads for a recount.

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