He’s a successful two-term governor who was re-elected with 69 percent of the vote in New Mexico, a red state. ~David Brooks

It’s nice to see David Brooks catching up to where Matt Yglesias and I have been for weeks and months.  I don’t just think Richardson is the one most likely to rise, but that he is the natural benefactor from the bloodletting among the top three relatively weaker candidates and will likely be the last one standing when it is all done.  He is now the centrist governor candidate in a party whose only successful nominees in the last thirty years have been more or less centrist governors, but he is also reliable on having been opposed to the war all along so that he does not have that “centrist” hawk baggage that Clinton and Edwards carry.  When the next six months fully reveal the major candidates as deeply flawed, which they certainly are, Richardson will be waiting in the wings when the party decides to take a second and third look. 

However, it’s unfortunate to see that Brooks is repeating this idea that New Mexico is a “red state” that makes his overwhelming re-election somehow significant as proof of his “crossover” appeal.  Richardson has a centrist record, and he has been good at winning independent voters, but as I wrote almost six months ago he doesn’t have any history of winning Republican votes.  He has never had to campaign in that way, because his elections have always been in extremely favourable environments against weak opponents.  His last three electoral victories (including his last term in Congress) were against John Dendahl, John Sanchez and Bill Redmond, all of whom were either widely disliked or were political novices or nonentities.  In this sense, he is Obama with a longer resume.  Since he talks up his ability to “deliver real estate,” it is important to understand that he will not be able to deliver any parts of the West that are not already heading rapidly towards the Democrats.

New Mexico is not now, nor has it ever been, what anyone could reasonably call a “red state.”  The state’s political leanings are as purple-blue as the Sandias in the evening.  It is true that Bush won New Mexico in 2004 and he only narrowly lost the state in 2000 (thanks to some probably creative vote-counting in northern southern New Mexico), but what people need to understand about New Mexico is that our state follows national trends just about as closely as any swing state ever has.  Matt Yglesias understands that New Mexico is a swing state and calls it that.  Only twice since statehood has New Mexico gone for the losing candidate in a presidential race: NM went for Ford in ’76 and Gore in ’00.  New Mexico has an eerie habit of almost always backing the national popular winner, and usually by roughly the same margin of the vote.  Given the demographics and party registration of New Mexicans, this really should not be happening, but the state’s population is so strangely diverse and unrepresentative of the nation as a whole that it somehow ends up producing outcomes for the presidential race that reliably track the country as a whole.  The relatively great numbers of Catholics, the infusion of investment from tech corporations and a strong military presence (which has been maintained in the face of base closures elsewhere through the influence of the aging Domenici) all combine to create a political culture that is far more right-leaning than should be the case for the state whose capital is the City Different and whose population is a minority-majority one. 

Given the national mood today, New Mexico has to be considered a Democratic-leaning state in the presidential race, just as it was certainly a purplish blue state in 2006.  Richardson would probably be the best standard-bearer the Dems could nominate out of the current field (which really tells you something about how pathetic the current field is), but he will not be bringing any states into the Democratic column that were not already going to be there.