Even Democrats say her popularity makes her a tough out
If Republicans are to take control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1953, Rep. Dianne Hamilton has to hold her seat.
Hamilton, 78, is being challenged by former Silver City mayor and former Silver City police captain Terry Fortenberry.
Democrat Fortenberry, 56, this year quit his job with the police department to focus his energy on defeating Hamilton.
"He had to make a choice. His choice obviously was for the campaign," Ed Reynolds, the Silver City police chief, said in an interview.
Fortenberry was on his second tour with the Silver City Police Department. He retired once, then returned.
In addition to his experience as a police captain, Fortenberry served three terms as mayor.
Democrats in the Legislature once thought he had an excellent chance to defeat Hamilton, also of Silver City, in House District 38. She is seeking an eighth 2-year term.
Their optimism has cooled. None would talk on the record, but several Democrats said Hamilton is popular and will be formidable in this election.
Fortenberry fought to knock Hamilton off the ballot because of flawed nominating petitions. But the state Supreme Court in April sided for Hamilton in a 3-1 vote.
Fortenberry, who did not return emails or calls seeking an interview, said during the court challenge that Hamilton ought to be displaced.
"I can do a better job," he said at the time.
Democrats can still maintain control of the House if Hamilton retains her seat. But their job would be much easier if Fortenberry defeated her.
The numbers in the House are 36 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent.
One or two defeats of incumbent Republicans would be enough to keep the Democrats as the majority party.
In a notable Republican flub last year, Rep. Tom Taylor, the House minority leader from Farmington, announced that Hamilton would not seek re-election. Most House Republicans were at Taylor's side when he said it. Hamilton was absent.
Located on the House floor minutes later, Hamilton said Taylor had made an incorrect assumption.
After being dismissed by her House leader, Hamilton may be stronger than ever politically.
Hamilton has shown streaks of independence in the Legislature.
She voted in 2011 to bar public school employees from paddling students, a measure that was more popular with Democrats than Republicans. Republican Gov. Susan Martinez signed the no-spanking bill into law.
In 2009, Hamilton voted to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico, a measure championed by Democrat Gail Chasey. Then-governor Bill Richardson, also a Democrat, said he agonized before signing the bill.
Hamilton's main legislative interest for the last four years has been on her own bill to require photo identification to vote.
Democrats have killed her proposal each time, but Hamilton said she would keep trying, just as Chasey did on the death penalty.
Hamilton's proposal on voter identification is one that galvanizes and angers Democrats. They say such legislation would make it harder for old people and low-income people to exercise their constitutional right to vote.