Majority leader is a master politician, but another factor helped him
State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado missed on his boldest prediction of the election -- his forecast that voters would oust Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.
Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, said he thought people in Valencia County were tired of Sanchez, that a big change was due.
If he had bet on this horse race, Baldonado, right, would have lost by seven furlongs.
Sanchez, D-Belen, pulled 55 percent of the vote to rout his challenger, Republican state Rep. David Chavez.
In a brief interview Tuesday at the Capitol, Baldonado said Chavez simply was not different enough from Sanchez to fire up the electorate.
Without a distinct choice available, voters stuck with Sanchez, Baldonado said.
Both Sanchez and Chavez are attorneys. Chavez voted for a bill sponsored by Sanchez that would have expunged certain criminal convictions and the records of the wrongly convicted. In fact, Baldonado also supported the expungement bill.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it.
Martinez targeted Sanchez for defeat. Her political forces hit him with expensive television ads. One claimed Sanchez was soft on baby killers.
Martinez and her allies also criticized Sanchez for supporting a law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver's licenses.
But Chavez also supported driving privileges for those in the country unlawfully. He sponsored a bill in 2011 to grant driving privilege cards, good in New Mexico only, to illegal immigrants.
Further, Chavez said such a licensing program was a matter of humanity, given that people fled the violence of Juarez, Mexico, for safety in New Mexico. More than 3,100 people were murdered in Juarez in 2010.
Many of the Republicans' efforts to demonize Sanchez failed. One reason was that Chavez, in only two years in the Legislature, shared similarities with the man he was running against.
Baldonado, more conservative than Chavez, said he could not have challenged Sanchez. Baldonado does not live in Sanchez's Senate district.
Sanchez, right, is easily the most powerful of the 42 state senators. As majority leader, he decides which bills will be heard on the Senate floor.
Martinez has complained that Sanchez blocked some of her prized legislative agenda. He said he never undercut her initiatives, that he managed the flow of bills as fairly as he could.
But of all the legislators standing for re-election, Martinez wanted to defeat Sanchez more than any other.
Now Sanchez has four more years in the Senate. Martinez is halfway through a four-year term.
It means the majority leader and the governor probably will cross swords myriad times.