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Candidates flock to race for open congressional seat

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles spotlighting candidates in contested races in New Mexico’s primary election.

WASHINGTON – A half-dozen Democratic candidates will appear on the June 5 primary ballot for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District race, while just one Republican is seeking election to the Albuquerque-based seat.

The highly competitive Democratic primary marks the first time in six years that the 1st District seat is open, as Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is stepping down after three terms in Washington to run for governor of New Mexico. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who served New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District for seven terms, is also leaving his congressional seat and running for governor.

The six candidates on the Democratic ballot in the 1st Congressional District are: Deb Haaland, a former New Mexico Democratic Party chairwoman; Damon Martinez, a former U.S. attorney for New Mexico; Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a former University of New Mexico law professor; Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis; Damian Lara, a lawyer and former congressional and state House of Representatives staffer; and Paul Moya, a business strategy consultant and CEO of Millennial Labs.

The lone Republican contender in the 1st District race is Janice Arnold-Jones, a former Albuquerque city councilor and state representative who ran for Congress and lost to Lujan Grisham in 2012.

The lone Libertarian candidate is Lloyd Princeton, a business owner and entrepreneur. +

Haaland, Martinez and Sedillo Lopez each began airing television commercials aimed at defining themselves for voters late last month, while they and the others are also busy sending campaign mailers and crisscrossing the central New Mexico district to attend candidate forums and woo voters.

Brian Sanderoff, the Journal’s pollster and a longtime observer of New Mexico politics, said Lujan Grisham’s decision not to seek re-election to Congress prompted a flood of Democratic hopefuls to come off the sidelines and run for the seat.

“We typically see crowded fields in a primary when that party’s candidates feel they have a good shot at winning the general election,” Sanderoff said. “The Democrats perceive there is a very good chance they can win.”

“On the Republican side, we’re seeing only one candidate run, and it’s looking like this race is not going to be targeted in any big way by the Republican congressional campaign committee,” Sanderoff added.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and author of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a congressional race handicapping tip sheet, lists New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District as “safe” for Democrats in the 2018 election cycle.

New Mexico’s primary elections are closed, meaning that voters can cast ballots only for candidates representing the political party in which they are registered. In other words, if you’re registered as a Democrat, you can vote only for Democrats in the primary election, and the same goes for Republicans and Libertarians. Independents and those who decline to state a party affiliation can’t vote in the June 5 primaries.

New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District includes almost all of Bernalillo County, all of Torrance County, and small portions of Sandoval, Valencia, and Santa Fe counties. Although Republicans held the seat from 1969 through 2008, the district has trended Democratic over the past decade.

Most Democrats in the race have been touting their ideas for improving health care and economic opportunity for New Mexicans, and protecting the state’s natural resources as well as strategies for protecting the missions at Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base.

If history is any guide, whoever prevails in the November general election could hold it for a while. Sanderoff noted that in the 50-plus years the 1st Congressional District seat has existed, incumbency has reigned supreme. Only five people have held the seat, and occupancy has changed only when an incumbent died, retired or left it for another job or another political race.

“An incumbent in this congressional seat has never lost re-election,” Sanderoff said. “Whoever wins this seat has a good chance of holding it for a very long time.”

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