Liberals dreamed of the day they would defeat conservative Democratic state Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming.

Smith, 78, might call it a case of being careful what you wish for.

He lost the Democratic primary election in June to a progressive challenger, Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg. But Smith predicts Republican Crystal Diamond will defeat Martinez-Parra in next week's general election.

"I think, on paper, the lady from T-or-C will pull it out," Smith said Tuesday.

Diamond lists her hometown as Elephant Butte, not nearby Truth or Consequences. But Smith's broader point is unchanged. He sees a clear edge for Diamond.

"My district has been performing at an advantage of 8 percentage points for Republicans," Smith said. "It's been Trump country and it was Steve Pearce country."

Pearce, chairman of the state Republican Party, was the longtime congressman in the district stretching across the southern half of New Mexico. Pearce first won the congressional seat in 2002, defeating Smith 56 percent to 43 percent.

Smith, though, remained a powerhouse in New Mexico politics by winning eight consecutive terms in the state Senate. First elected in 1988, Smith had enormous influence over the state budget as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

But after 32 years in office, Smith sensed he would not get another term.

"I always knew I was vulnerable with the progressives," he said.

A big business tried to save Smith in the primary election. Chevron Corp. poured $700,000 into advertising to help a handful of conservative Democrats, including Smith.

Liberal organizations, such as the New Mexico Working Families Party, countered by denouncing Smith as a political impostor.

"They're trying to make the case that Smith is really a Democrat," said Eric Griego, director of the Working Families Party.

Martinez-Parra defeated Smith in the Senate District 35 primary by 10 percentage points or 500 votes.

But, Smith said, the general election will be much tougher for a progressive candidate to win.

Martinez-Parra, a special education teacher, said she had no response or comment on Smith's prediction that Diamond would take the general election.

As for Martinez-Parra herself, she said: "My assessment right now is it's really hard to say" who will win.

But health care and child well-being are foremost on the minds of voters she speaks with, Martinez-Parra said.

"They are ready to thrive because they feel they've been left out so long," she said.

Senate District 35 includes parts of Doña Ana, Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra counties.

Half the district's population is in Smith's home county of Luna, which gave him 85 votes more votes than Martinez-Parra. Smith also won Martinez-Parra's home county of Hidalgo by a slender margin.

Martinez-Parra prevailed by larger totals in Sierra and Doña Ana counties to take the primary.

Doña Ana leans Democrat but makes up only 15 percent of the district. Smith sees Sierra County putting Republican Diamond over the top next week.

Smith can rattle off all the statistics and trends in his district. They are ingrained in his head, like the dates of the great stock market crash and the Battle of Midway.

But last spring he seemed to know his time in the Senate was about to end. He spoke of losing to Martinez-Parra weeks before it happened.

His defeat drew cheers from many fellow Democrats. Smith had drawn their enmity with many of his votes.

He supported keeping a 1969 anti-abortion law on the books, and he tried to delay until 2026 a higher tax rate for married couples making at least $315,000 a year, and single people with an annual income of at least $210,000.

Smith also angered other Democrats by using his committee to bottle up a proposal to expand early childhood education. The measure would have asked voters for permission to use a portion of the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund for another education program.

Smith called the idea irresponsible. The endowment already helps pay for K-12 public schools.

His foes said they welcomed the day when a liberal Democrat would send Smith back to full-time work at his appraisal business.

That much is about to happen. In doubt is whether a liberal will replace Smith in the Senate.

If Smith is right, Sen. Diamond is likely to be just as conservative as the incumbent who's on his way out.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080. This is published with the permission of Milan Simonich as it was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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