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With just a week to go, political activist Pat Davis shook up Albuquerque’s congressional race by abandoning his own campaign and urging progressive Democrats to unite around a rival candidate – Deb Haaland, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman.
Davis, an Albuquerque city councilor who never broke into the top tier of candidates himself, said progressives are splitting the vote and are in danger of allowing the “most conservative” candidate – former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez – to win the nomination to represent the 1st Congressional District.
“There is a wrong choice in this election,” Davis said Tuesday during a joint news conference with Haaland.
A spokeswoman for Martinez, meanwhile, said the candidate remains focused on serving the community and taking on President Donald Trump.
“It’s unfortunate that other candidates in this race are focusing their efforts on attacking a fellow Democrat instead of holding the Trump administration accountable for its actions,” campaign manager Abigail Collazo said in a written statement. “In fact, this is exactly what Republicans want – Democrats at each other’s throats so that they are too distracted to take on the lies and disastrous policies coming out of Washington, D.C.”
Martinez had a narrow edge in a Journal Poll last week that showed Haaland and retired law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez close behind him.
Martinez had support from 22 percent of likely voters, Haaland was at 19 percent and Sedillo Lopez was at 17 percent, according to the scientific survey by Research & Polling Inc. Davis was fourth, at 5 percent, and two other candidates trailed him.
But 29 percent of voters were undecided or wouldn’t say how they’ll vote. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
“This race is still in flux,” Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said in an interview Tuesday.
Davis is a former police officer and founder of the advocacy group ProgressNow New Mexico. His City Council district covers parts of the university area, East Central Avenue and Nob Hill – some of the most liberal neighborhoods in Albuquerque.
His endorsement of Haaland “will probably carry some weight for some of his supporters,” Sanderoff said, “and in a close race, something like this could help.”
Martinez has highlighted his experience as a former federal prosecutor and in the Army Reserve as he pushes to win the Democratic nomination. He has also cast himself as a worthy opponent of Trump, noting that he was among more than 45 U.S. attorneys throughout the country ousted by the Trump administration last year.
But Martinez has also faced criticism from fellow Democrats in the race – who have raised questions about possible racial profiling in a federal law enforcement operation conducted in the Albuquerque’s International District and whether he’s overstating his clash with Trump.
Haaland and Sedillo Lopez have emerged as the strongest fundraisers in the race.
Haaland would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. She repeated one of her signature campaign lines at Tuesday’s news conference: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.”
Haaland has been endorsed by more than a dozen New Mexico pueblos, two major teachers unions, Equality New Mexico and others. Indian tribes have been among her top contributors.
Sedillo Lopez, in turn, is pitching herself as a much-needed expert on the Constitution, given her background as a former associate dean at the law school and as an attorney. She also ran Enlace Comunitario, a nonprofit group supporting immigrant women who have experienced domestic violence.
Many of Sedillo Lopez’s donations have come from lawyers across New Mexico and from law professors throughout the country. She’s been endorsed by the NM Building & Construction Trades Council, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus PAC and The People for Bernie (Sanders), among others.
“Frankly, I understand the concerns around Mr. Martinez,” Sedillo Lopez said. “Having worked on social justice issues my entire career, his record as a prosecutor deserves scrutiny.”
Martinez’s endorsements include former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, former Ambassador to Spain Ed Romero and the military-supporting organizations VoteVets and With Honor, both of which have donated to his campaign.
The primary election is Tuesday. Early and absentee voting is underway. It’s too late for Davis to remove his name from the ballot, but he urged voters to support Haaland.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running for the Democratic nomination for governor rather than re-election.
The winner of the Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District will face Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton in the Nov. 6 general election.
Democrats have won the seat since 2008.