New Mexico: Senate Race Set, Grisham Wins Three-Way Primary

by Jessica Taylor June 6, 2012 · 11:57 AM EDT

The Republican candidate that cries “conservative” the loudest doesn’t always win the primary.

Child care center owner Greg Sowards, who had the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), tried to run to the right of Heather Wilson but the former congresswoman prevailed with almost 70 percent of the vote. She’ll face Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) in the general election after he won his primary 58 percent to 42 percent against state Auditor Hector Balderas.

The congressman starts off with a slight edge in the general election contest to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D), but Wilson and Republicans have all the elements to make this a competitive race this fall. The state will be crucial in the presidential race, with both sides preparing to spend heavily in the western battleground state. RPR continues to rate the Senate race Toss Up/Tilt Democrat.

In one of the most competitive Democratic primaries of the night, it was Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham who emerged from a contentious three-way primary in the state’s 1st congressional District.

Grisham had flown under the radar for much of the race, but that was exactly the way the former state health secretary wanted it in her strategy to defeat both former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez and state Sen. Eric Griego, who was boosted by several progressive groups. Grisham, backed by EMILY’s List, conserved her cash until late and was the first candidate on air. Chavez was the most well-known in the race after several terms as mayor, but he faced negative headlines after his former girlfriend was indicted for embezzling millions from a Santa Fe hospital.

As Chavez faded from the top tier of the race, the attacks between Grisham and Griego escalated, leading some to believe the negative attacks could blunt Grisham’s rise after she benefited from the animosity between Griego and Chavez. In the race’s closing days, Grisham hit Griego in an ad over his numerous arrest warrants and outstanding traffic violations, while Griego fired back at Grisham, attacking her over an abuse scandal at a senior center she oversaw as state health director.

Progressive groups, including and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, went in big for Griego, who local Democrats had always regarded as hot-tempered. Greigo’s loss gives the progressive groups another primary loss, after failing to get organizer Ilya Sheyman through in Illinois’ 10th District and state Sen. Rob Garagiola (who was endorsed by MoveOn but not PCCC) in Maryland’s 6th District. And in the primary in California’s 52nd District tonight, it was Democrat Scott Peters who advanced, not their favored candidate Lori Saldana.

Grisham will be highly favored to win this seat in the fall, despite the fact this 1st District seat has been a House battleground for several cycles. Republicans failed to recruit a top tier candidate here, and former state Rep. Janice Arnold Jones (R) has struggled to raise money.