Not so long ago, Yvette Herrell was a once-beaten challenger fighting for her political life.

Prospects seemed better for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who looked like a sure bet to be reelected.

Their fortunes haven’t exactly reversed since last fall. But Herrell, now the Republican congresswoman representing Southern New Mexico, is stronger politically than Democrat Lujan Grisham.

Five Republicans are running for governor. No one is challenging Herrell, even though a congresswoman who flipped a seat from Democrat to Republican ought to be wearing a target as she makes her first try for reelection.

In the governor’s race, the Republican candidates are strangers to most of New Mexico’s electorate. They can’t touch Lujan Grisham in name recognition, but they’re in the race because they see flaws in the governor’s conduct and weaknesses in her job performance.

Lujan Grisham settled a harassment lawsuit brought by a former campaign aide, saying she wanted to keep her attention on curbing the coronavirus pandemic. And her decisions on lockdowns during the pandemic might have dented her popularity since the 2018 election, when she won the open seat for governor by 100,000 votes.

Based on recent history, Lujan Grisham remains the favorite. No sitting governor of New Mexico has lost a reelection campaign since Democrat Bruce King in 1994.

Gary Johnson, a Republican who was new to politics, unseated King. Johnson then won another term.

Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican Susana Martinez also got two terms, each winning reelection with ease.

The state was purple when Johnson and Martinez took the governor’s office. Lujan Grisham should benefit from the blue wave that has made vote-rich Albuquerque less friendly to Republicans.

Still, the fact that Lujan Grisham is drawing plenty of opposition while Herrell has none means two things: Republicans have a faint hope of winning the governor’s office, and Democrats aren’t the least bit serious about competing in the 2nd Congressional District.

The oddity is Herrell has done all she could to energize Democrats, starting with her first week in office in January.

She objected to certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election on the same day that rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. The lawbreakers repeated then-President Donald Trump’s spurious claims about election fraud.

Herrell later created another avenue of attack for Democrats. She voted against establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot.

Her decisions should have inspired Democrats to recruit a name candidate. Instead, Herrell might be right in her calculation that vouching for Trump will scare away rivals in the right-leaning 2nd District.

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms. As soon as one election is over, they’re campaigning again.

Herrell, of Alamogordo, is on that political treadmill. She had $361,000 in her 2022 campaign account for the reporting period that ended in March, and she will rake in much more.

At some point, one or more Democrats will have to enter the congressional race. A major party can’t let a controversial freshman lawmaker run unopposed.

But the Democrats appear committed to nothing more than a halfhearted effort. They don’t have many prospects in the southern part of the state, and the three who might have threatened Herrell aren’t running.

Former Democratic Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces defeated Herrell in 2018 but lost their rematch last year by a wide margin. Biden has nominated Torres Small for a job in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning she won’t have a third campaign against Herrell.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales of Silver City decided to run for reelection instead gambling his political future in a congressional district where Trump and Herrell were strong last year.

State Sen. Joe Cervantes, a practical Democrat and well-known attorney from Las Cruces, might have been the toughest match-up for Herrell. Cervantes, though, told me he wouldn’t seek the congressional seat. That leaves Herrell with clear sailing to a second term.

She was close to being finished politically after she lost to Torres Small in 2018. With thousands of votes still to be counted, Herrell foolishly gave a victory speech.

Torres Small ended up winning by a decisive 3,700 votes. Herrell, humiliated by her premature declaration of victory, then claimed the election had been stolen. As for proof, she had none.

Herrell made a comeback by grabbing Trump’s coattails. She still hasn’t let go as she sits in what’s become one of the state’s safest seats.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(11) comments

John Cook

Milan is whistling past the graveyard. The only right thing I found in this column is that Joe Cervantes would be the best choice for the Ds in 2022. He told Milan he isn't running. We shall see. If he has an open field and favorable redistricting, my money is on him to run and win.

Khal Spencer

Apparently Gov. Michelle spent the day partying with the Space Billionaire. Another strike against her.

Daniel Valdez

The alternative is way better than a US hating, marxist, socialist democrat.

Gene Hill

With respect to Harrell, funny how not a word was mentioned about the redistricting. If they draw McKinley County into her district, she's toast. Her reelection prospects are being way overstated here

Khal Spencer

Milan, I usually find your arguments compelling, but the idea that any of these GOP "stalwarts" can unseat MLG seems a little far fetched. Whoever they manage to nominate in the primary will have to kowtow to the base and therefore, will be out of touch with the 3rd CD and likely trounced in the 1st CD as well.

But what do I know?

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Bingo!

Chris Mechels

Hopefully Michelle will run, and lose. We need to break up the Trifecta, which is always ruinous, esp since Egolf took out the conservative D's, like John Arthur Smith.

Michelle's a rotten Governor, who seems to know nothing of governance, and has run off the few competent Cabinet members. She conducts herself as a petty Dictator, a wicked micro manager, who fires competent(s). Even the Democrats are getting fed up with this nasty little Dictator, so she may lose. We can only hope. If the Democrats lose control of the US Congress, and they might, Michelle will be weakened.

Sabine Strohem

Herrell is a self pro-claimed "trump republican". I find that branding so gross. As should everyone. I don't see dems following suit. "A Biden democrat"? No. I hope I'm not wrong.

Spencer Ralston

Sabine, there are generally speaking two kinds of republicans - one are the “normal” conservative types ala Liz Cheney, and the other are the trumpists who deny facts and are beholden to a cult personality rather than a philosophy. As Herrell espouses the big lie that trump won the election, she has defined herself as the latter - a trump republican. The Dems generally also have two types - progressives and centrists - but none are beholden to a cult personality.

Khal Spencer

Mr. Ralston, as far as I can tell, is spot on. The closest I've seen to a cult following in the D party is to Bernie Sanders, and I think that has to do far more with his political objectives than with the kind of Mussolini-type adoration many have for Mr. Trump.

Herrell has tied her fortunes to the Big Lie. I wouldn't vote for her to be dog catcher unless she finds her way back to reality. If the Prodigal Son could see his failures, return, and ask forgiveness, so can she.

Mike Johnson

After listening to Mr. Adams, who won the Mayoral Democratic Primary Election in NYC, I might say there could be hope for the return of centrist/conservative Ds to my party. I can't believe he is a Democrat, with all the ones in NYC, like AOC, etc. defining Ds there, but I am certainly glad he has shown how a non-left wing Democratic Socialist can win in a place like NYC. If only my party had ones like him here in NM.

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