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Impeachment could be an issue in 2020 races

Will the impeachment inquiry become a campaign issue in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat that is up for grabs in 2020?

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson believes that is a possibility.

Both candidates – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver – favor proceedings, which were called last week by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi following the revelations of a whistleblowing complaint that included a phone call between President Trump and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which the president seemed to pitch an investigation into former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board a major Ukrainian natural gas producer.

The timing of their support is where there could be an issue, Atkeson said.

She points out that Toulouse Oliver was a vocal supporter of an inquiry months ago.

Atkeson said Luján “wasn’t a leader on the issue” until recently. The 3rd Congressional District congressman didn’t endorse the proceedings until last month.

The two announced Republican candidates – Albuquerque contractor Mick Rich and former New Mexico State University professor Gavin Clarkson – oppose the proceedings.

“New Mexico is plagued by violent crime, drug gangs, an under-performing school system, low wages, and high rates of poverty and childhood hunger,” Rich said in a release. “If Congressman Ben Ray Luján, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and their Democratic colleagues were less concerned with fitting in with the Washington elites, they would work on something more important than their own political careers.”

Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce also appeared to suggest that Biden be investigated, saying that transcripts should be released of his conversations as vice president with Ukranian and Chinese leaders.

“The evidence suggests there are strong reasons for investigations,” the former congressman said in statement to the Journal.

It could also be an issue in what will be one of the most hotly contested congressional races next year.

The Republican Party Congressional Committee called out 2nd Congressional District Rep. Xochitl Torres Small about her stand on the issue. Torres Small stopped short of calling for impeachment proceedings last week, although she did call for the release of the whistleblowing complaint and transparency during the process.

Atkeson said Torres Small had the biggest risk among current members of the state’s delegation, with the district for years being reliably Republican.

And one of her potential rivals, 2018 Republican nominee Yvette Herrell, came out against the inquiry after it was announced.

“Nancy Pelosi and her radical socialist allies know they can’t beat President Trump at the ballot box, so now they are trying to impeach him over a phone call they didn’t hear and haven’t seen the transcript of,” she said in a release. She made the statement before the White House released a rough memo of the conversation between Trump and the president of Ukraine.

Impeachment – however – may take a backseat in what is shaping up to be a volatile Republican nomination fight for the seat. The Republican Party took an unusual step in rebuking a claim by one of Herrell’s rivals, businessman Chris Mathys, calling into question Herrell’s stance on abortion. Mathys claimed a bill Herrell supported as a state representative, House Bill 390, that was introduced in 2015, a “pro abortion bill.”

The party said the bill, which was supported by other Republicans, was “an effort to protect the unborn.”

“The bill made it illegal to perform dangerous late-term abortions in New Mexico,” the party said in a statement. It called Mathys’ claims “intentional misstatements of the facts and untrue accusations.”

And that comes on the heels of a story by Breitbart about statements made by the third candidate in the race, Claire Chase, on Facebook that were critical of Trump and called into question her support for the president.

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

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