Buoyant, bilingual, upbeat and the first female Hispanic governor of any state, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez seems a good fit for chief executive officer of a Western state where almost half the 2.1 million population is Hispanic.
But will major campaign donors and 2016 GOP presidential primary voters see the former prosecutor and daughter of a Texas deputy sheriff as a good fit for president of a nation where Hispanics account for 54 million out of a total population of 316 million?
The answer will become clearer as next summer approaches.
For now, she’s running for a second term as governor this November with a personal story that excites the GOP faithful and right-leaning independents everywhere: she and her husband, Chuck, both former Democrats, had turned Republican for philosophical, not knee-jerk partisan, reasons.
“Before I ran for district attorney, two Republicans invited my husband and me to lunch,” she says in one version of the personal tale. “I knew a party-switch was what they wanted from us. So, I told Chuck, ‘We’ll be polite, we’ll enjoy a free lunch and then we’ll say goodbye.’”
At lunch, the conversation turned on issues with no mention of “Republican,” “Democrat,” “liberal” or conservative.”
Instead, they talked about whether “welfare is a helping hand up or a way of life.” They talked about the “size of government and how much should it tax families and small businesses.”
In public gathering, such as her prime-time 2012 Tampa, Fla., GOP presidential nominating speech to millions of TV viewers and 20,000 delegates and credentialed members of the press, she wraps up the story this way: “When we left that lunch, we got in the car, and I looked over at Chuck and said, ‘I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans.’”
In small groups, her delivery is tailored a bit differently. She bubbles over with enthusiasm, and her eyes sparkle as she says, ” and I looked at Chuck and said, holy s–, we’re Republicans!” Her small audience invariably breaks into laughter.
Right now, campaign consultants put her on the long list of potential 2016 White House candidates. Rising onto the shortlist will require something special — that unanticipated something that is the soul of American politics.
Some political consultants will ultimately explore what she brings to a ticket in terms of demographics.
In New Mexico’s Hispanic-rich Guadalupe, Mora, Rio Arriba, and San Miguel counties, Mrs. Martinez’s 2010 share of the total votes — including non-Hispanics — was 57 percent, 46 percent, 41 percent, and 38 percent respectively. That was probably not a majority share of the Hispanic population, but from her supporters’ viewpoint, remarkable nonetheless.
She’s also got the kind of gubernatorial record conservative and establishment Republicans alike love to love — seemingly sparse to nonexistent in pandering to ethnic groups and other special interests.
As soon as she and her husband unpacked their clothes in the governor’s residence, she began crusading to repeal a state law that granted illegals immigrants a driver’s license. She also signed an executive order requiring state law enforcers to check the immigration status of everyone arrested in the state.
But it’s her personal story that offers a strong connection should she gamble on 2016.