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DNC chairman talks debates, local races in NM visit

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez speaks in Orlando, Fla., in this May 2018 file photo. Democrats are planning to hold a dozen presidential primary debates starting this month and running through April 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux, file)

SANTA FE — With the party’s first 2020 presidential candidate debate just two weeks away, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Thursday that climate change will get “robust” treatment in the debates after getting little attention four years ago.

Perez, who was in Santa Fe to attend a forum with Democratic Party state chairs from around the nation, has rejected calls to add a debate focused solely on climate change β€” or any other issue β€”to the 12 debates already scheduled.

But he said the DNC has been in touch with television networks about ensuring time is spent on climate change during the upcoming debates, and vowed the issue would be discussed early and often.

“The failure to discuss climate change in 2016 was absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable,” Perez told the Journal. “We’re going to have the most robust discussion in this primary debate cycle that we’ve ever had, because it’s important.”

He also said gun violence, immigration and economic fairness would be featured issues, while describing Democrat’s large field of candidates as a “first-class challenge.”

During Perez’s stop in New Mexico, the DNC announced the 20 candidates that have been invited to take part in the first debate, set for June 26 and June 27 in Miami. The invitation list was based on criteria that included polling numbers and campaign fundraising.

A former U.S. labor secretary and head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under then-President Barack Obama, Perez was elected Democrats’ national chairman in February 2017.

He said Thursday the party is confident it will retain the U.S. Senate seat that incumbent Tom Udall is vacating next year, as well as the traditionally Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District seat in southern New Mexico that U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., won last year.

“When you win an election, they’re always going to try to come right back,” Perez said, referring to Torres Small’s victory last year over Republican Yvette Herrell, who is running again next year for the seat. “If it’s a rematch, we’re going to win that rematch.”

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce has said he believes the GOP is poised for a breakthrough next year, due to improving economic conditions for workers and a perceived overreach by the Democratic-controlled Legislature on gun-related proposals.

However, Perez said Democrats are energized and organized as a result of the 2016 victory of President Donald Trump, who plans to seek re-election.

“Sometimes it takes an unmitigated disaster to awaken our democracy and that’s what’s happened,” Perez said.

Trump’s campaign manager recently said that New Mexico could be “in play” for 2020, and Perez said Democrats are taking “nothing for granted” despite sweeping all statewide offices up for election last year β€” including the Governor’s Office.

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