Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
|BEN R LUJAN (DEM)||474,483|
|BOB WALSH (LIB)||24,271|
|MARK V RONCHETTI (REP)||418,483|
SANTA FE — Democrat Ben Ray Luján successfully fended off a spirited challenge from Republican Mark Ronchetti on Tuesday in a three-way race for a rare open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico.
After holding a narrow lead for most of election night, Luján was declared the projected victor by the Associated Press shortly after 10:30 p.m.
While the race did not receive the same national attention as some other hotly contested U.S. Senate races around the country, it featured more than $10 million in spending by the two leading candidates and could prove pivotal in determining control of the chamber come January.
Given the high stakes, Luján and Ronchetti both launched hard-hitting television ads in the run-up to Election Day focused on health care access, crime and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The candidates also clashed in three televised debates.
The third candidate in the race, Libertarian Bob Walsh of Santa Fe, struggled to gain traction in the race and was trailing far behind in the polls and in terms of fundraising.
Luján, 48, will be New Mexico’s first Hispanic U.S. senator since Joseph Montoya in 1977.
The six-term congressman, who is giving up his northern New Mexico-based 3rd Congressional District seat to run for U.S. Senate, delivered a victory speech late Tuesday evening alongside his mother and other family members in Nambé, a small community just north of Santa Fe.
“As your U.S. senator, I will not stop fighting to get you the help you need … from this pandemic,” Luján said.
He also cited the legacies of some of the state’s former U.S. senators, including Democrats Jeff Bingaman and Dennis Chávez and Republican Pete Domenici.
For his part, Ronchetti, 47, would have been the first Republican elected by state voters to the U.S. Senate since Domenici was elected to his sixth and final six-year term in 2002.
A former television meteorologist who lives in Albuquerque, Ronchetti sought to portray Luján as a partisan Democrat on the campaign trail, while describing himself as a political outsider who would put New Mexico’s needs first.
But as the GOP candidate in the race, he faced pointed questions from Luján about his stance on repealing the landmark U.S. Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
After the race was called late Tuesday evening, Ronchetti said he called Luján to congratulate him on his victory.
“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support I received from New Mexicans throughout the campaign,” Ronchetti said in a statement. “We have a wonderful state and all want what’s best for New Mexico.”
Luján had a lead over Ronchetti in a recent Journal Poll, with 52% of those surveyed saying they planned to vote for the Democrat, whose late father, Ben Lujan, was a former New Mexico House speaker, and 44% saying they planned to support Ronchetti.
Meanwhile, this year’s race is open because Democratic incumbent Tom Udall, who has held the U.S. Senate seat since 2009, announced in March 2019 he would not seek reelection this year to a third term.
Luján, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary election, raised more than $8.4 million for his campaign — with most of that money coming from out-of-state donors — and spent roughly $7.8 million, according to recent campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Ronchetti, who won a three-way GOP primary in June, reported raising nearly $3.5 million and spending about $2.8 million.
Several outside groups have also spent hefty sums in the race, including a National Association of Realtors political committee, which reported spending nearly $460,000 on Luján’s behalf.