New Mexico is one of those used-to-be-purple states that has gone solid blue in recent years.
So when incumbent Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich sends out an email blast warning that the entrance of a new candidate to the race "could change everything in my race," it raises a few eyebrows.
What's going on here? Well, it turns out that a couple weeks ago, former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson was nominated by the New Mexico Libertarian Party to run against Heinrich. And a SuperPAC to support him has now launched, too. It certainly looks like Johnson is about to enter the race. And it certainly looks like Heinrich is scared.
From Heinrich's fundraising email:
Last weekend, Libertarians nominated Gary Johnson to challenge me in my re-election campaign, and this could change everything in my race.
Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico and presidential candidate, has a national network of wealthy donors to bankroll his campaign. They already have a super PAC set up, ready to flood the airwaves with ads against me the moment Johnson gets in the race.
In the Senate, Johnson would side with Republicans on everything from slashing Medicare and Medicaid to threatening Social Security and blocking increases to the minimum wage.
Gary Johnson is wrong for New Mexico, and he’d stop Democrats from advancing our agenda nationwide. In such an important year for Senate Democrats, this is the last thing we need.
Sounds to us like Heinrich might be making Johnson's case for him, but is this race actually winnable for Johnson? It's considered so unwinnable for the Republican in the race that Real Clear Politics isn't even showing polls for it.
For what it's worth, though, there is apparently a poll commissioned by the Libertarian party that shows this:
A Libertarian party survey of 500 registered voters statewide utilizing live interviewers and conducted by NSON Opinion Strategy prior to Johnson’s emergence as a potential candidate shows Johnson and the Republican candidate, Mick Rich, in a virtual tie at 24% and 25% respectively, and trailing incumbent Martin Heinrich by only 14 points. In a head to head match up between Rich and incumbent Heinrich, Heinrich wins by 18 points. Rich is at 29% and Heinrich is at 47%.
A poll using auto-dials, conducted by In Lux Research, found additional results. According to this poll in a head to head battle between Johnson and Henrich, Johnson is ahead by 2 points, with Heinrich at 40 and Johnson at 42. This poll of 525 registered voters was conducted July 28-29.
Johnson won't be an acceptable option for some conservatives. He is pro-choice. In 2016, he seemed to move off of his record as a very conservative governor with chatter about agreeing with Bernie Sanders on a range of issues (presumably he meant the social ones and things like marijuana legalization and domestic surveillance, but the comments made some folks wonder).
However, these numbers indicate he at least has a shot at beating Heinrich, where it appears that Rich does not and will not.
Will Johnson jump in the race? We'll know soon enough. But for now, Republicans in New Mexico should start thinking about the potential for dumping a very liberal senator and replacing him with one who would probably vote like a genetically modified hybrid of Jeff Flake, Justin Amash and Susan Collins. Is that everyone's cup of tea? Probably not. Is it a vast improvement over Heinrich? Probably so.