After easily securing New Mexico’s Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday, Michelle Lujan Grisham wasted no time in calling out her Republican general election opponent, Steve Pearce.
The three-term Albuquerque congresswoman came under constant attack from her two Democratic rivals during the primary election campaign, but Lujan Grisham said in her victory speech that she won’t back down from critics she expects will be even harsher in the general election and vowed to “fight like hell” for New Mexico.
“I’m not going to promise you we can turn around this state overnight, but I can promise you I will be a governor who takes on your challenges as if they were my own,” she told a crowd of cheering supporters at an election night victory rally at the Albuquerque Museum.
The general election contest between Lujan Grisham and Pearce, who did not face primary opposition, will mark what is believed to be the first time two sitting members of Congress have run against each other for governor in state history.
Pearce issued a statement Tuesday that also planted the seeds for a hard-hitting showdown, suggesting some politicians see “cronyism and personal gain as a fact of life in governing.”
However, Lujan Grisham indicated she’s ready to punch back, describing Pearce as a status quo candidate and linking him to President Donald Trump, a Republican who lost New Mexico by 8 percentage points in the 2016 election.
A former state Cabinet secretary under three governors who would be the first Democratic woman elected governor of New Mexico, Lujan Grisham fended off primary challenges from state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and former media executive Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque.
With most votes counted late Tuesday, Lujan Grisham had garnered 66.4 percent of the votes cast in the race, compared with Apodaca’s 22.2 percent and Cervantes’ 11.5 percent.
Lujan Grisham frequently touted her state government experience on the campaign trail, saying that turning around a state plagued by chronically high unemployment rates and a low-performing public school system would be a “heavy lift” for whoever is elected governor.
Now, Lujan Grisham faces the task of trying to win over Democratic backers of her two primary foes, both of whom in the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary election criticized her past ties to a health care consulting company with a contract to help run a state high-risk insurance pool.
According to tax returns Lujan Grisham released last week, she made roughly $376,000 in investment earnings from Delta Consulting from 2013 through 2017. Her campaign manager has said some of that money was used to pay the firm’s tax bills.
Lujan Grisham defended her work with Delta during her Tuesday victory speech and described the criticism as “false attacks” and “phony scandals.”
“This is one woman … who will not let the internet trolls or the forces of dark money stop me from doing my job or doing what is right,” adding that this is “nothing compared to what lies ahead in the general election.”
Apodaca, who warned in a fundraising email earlier this week that Lujan Grisham would lose to Pearce in a general election showdown, said Tuesday evening that he planned to reach out to Lujan Grisham in the coming days but stopped short of pledging to endorse her.
“We’re very disappointed in the outcome tonight,” Apodaca told the Journal.
Lujan Grisham said she received a congratulatory phone call from Cervantes during which he vowed to support the Democratic nominee.
Lujan Grisham used her broad range of connections to out-raise her Democratic opponents and landed the endorsements of key labor unions, tribal groups and more than two dozen state lawmakers.
Her running mate for the general election will be state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City, who emerged victorious in a three-way Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Pearce will enter the general election cycle with a hefty cash advantage, as Lujan Grisham — and her Democratic opponents for governor — spent big money on TV campaign ads and mailers in the run-up to the primary election.
Pearce reported last week having more than $1.9 million in his campaign war chest. That’s nearly twice as much as Lujan Grisham, who reported having nearly $1.1 million in her campaign account.
In his statement, Pearce, who will run on a ticket with unopposed GOP lieutenant governor candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, said the general election will feature two “very different visions” for New Mexico’s future.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, who called the race for Lujan Grisham shortly after the polls closed, said New Mexico appears headed for an “action-packed” race for governor this fall.
He also said the visibility Lujan Grisham gained in the primary cycle could help her in the general election, adding, “It was a sweeping victory for her, winning diverse counties across New Mexico.”