March 16, 2011 | Hotline On Call National Journal | Original Article

Census Quick Cuts: New Mexico, Montana

The Census Bureau rolled out data for two western states Tuesday: New Mexico and Montana. Both states may be trending Democratic: New Mexico's Hispanic population jumped, while Montana's growth was largely in its more liberal university and vacation towns.

-- Hispanics outnumber non-Hispanic whites in New Mexico for the first time during redistricting, as the Hispanic population grew by nearly a quarter in the past decade. New Mexico grew by 13 percent, with more than three quarters of the growth from Latinos.

New Mexico's Hispanic population has been there longer than the United States has existed, and much of the state's Latino growth can be attributed to high birthrates rather than immigration: As of 2008, 84 percent of New Mexico's Hispanics were native-born Americans, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Much of the state's growth was around Albuquerque: the city grew by 22 percent and nearby Rio Rancho grew by 70 percent and surpassed Santa Fe to become the state's third-largest town. Las Cruces, in the south of the state, also grew by nearly one third.

New Mexico's Hispanic voters, who make up about one third of the electorate, do not vote as consistently for Democrats as Latinos in nearby states like Nevada, Arizona and California, which makes this a swing state rather than a Democratic stronghold. The state went narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 and just as narrowly for George W. Bush in 2004, before swinging hard for President Obama in 2008. Democrats picked up two congressional districts that year.

But last fall, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce won back his southern New Mexico seat, and Hispanic Republican Susana Martinez won the governorship. Republicans will have to continue appealing to Hispanics next year if they hope to pick up the Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D).

Control of redistricting is split between the parties, with state House Speaker Ben Lujan likely to fight any plan that weakens his son, Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. His district, in the north, is the most Democratic of the state's three districts, but its least Hispanic; both factors are due to a large Native American population and a large number of white liberals in Santa Fe.

The state's growth appears to be about evenly distributed throughout its three congressional districts, which have remained largely unchanged in 30 years, with growth in the state's southeast and Las Cruces in Pearce's district balancing Albuquerque's growth in Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich's district and Rio Rancho's growth on the edge of Lujan's district. With shared partisan control over redistricting and Heinrich looking at running for Senate, expect few changes to the congressional map.

-- Montana grew by almost 10 percent in the last decade, with its population shifting westward: most of the western Rocky Mountains part of the state gained population, while most of the plains counties to the east lost people. The other growth area was in and around the south-central part of the state, near Billings.

The state's fastest growth has been in Bozeman, which is a college and resort town that grew by one third. Surrounding Gallatin County also grew by one third, and is trending Democratic: It went for Obama by four points after giving Bush a 15-point edge in 2004.

The state, long much more Democratic than its neighbors because of its union tradition, may be trending Democratic due to an influx of people from more liberal western states like California, quick growth in the more Democratic parts of the state, including Missoula and Bozeman, and a continued decline in the more Republican east of the state. This could be good news for Democrats in a year where there could be many tough races. Sen. Jon Tester (D), who won narrowly in 2006, faces reelection, and both the governorship and the state's lone House seat are open.