District Attorney Raúl Torrez of Albuquerque was on his way to winning the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General on Tuesday night after a bruising campaign with state Auditor Brian Colón over qualifications and who could best help remedy the state’s high crime problem.
According to unofficial results, Torrez held solid lead in all but a handful of New Mexico’s rural counties and Doña Ana County, a Colón stronghold, according to unofficial results posted to the Secretary of State’s website. He was leading 53% to 47% for Colón.
Projecting a tough persona as an independent crime fighter, Torrez is expected to face Republican attorney Jeremy Gay of Gallup in the November election.
In his second term as District Attorney in the state’s largest county, AG candidate Torrez focused on families of crime victims in his campaign ads, while dismissing Colón as a career politician who endorsed the Defund the Police movement — an assertion Colón denied.
Both men, who live in Albuquerque, pledged to address concerns of persistently high crime rates while enhancing consumer protections for New Mexicans. But they differed in their approaches.
Colón, a former state Democratic Party chair, ran as a watchdog for New Mexico families, while Torrez billed himself as an independent reformer who would rebuild the office. The position is currently held by state Attorney General Hector Balderas, who is term limited.
Cólon, 52, drew upon his life story to connect with voters. He pointed out how he grew up in poverty in Valencia County, pawning his father’s wedding ring to help pay for college, and he vowed to give back to the community through public service. But his campaign also unleashed negative ads attacking his opponent’s record as a prosecutor for the state’s largest DA’s office.
Colón claimed Torrez’s office had a poor conviction rate for violent crimes according to state legislative analysts, an assertion hotly disputed by Torrez, who offered a higher rate and faulted the legislative data as incomplete.
Torrez, meanwhile, highlighted his career as a state and federal prosecutor while chiding Colón, who has practiced civil law for 20 years, for lacking prosecutorial experience. Torrez, 45, also attempted to portray his opponent as a supporter of the “Defund the Police” movement and touted his success in implementing intelligence driven crime reduction strategies, particularly for gun-involved and automobile theft.
Torrez also took aim at the practice adopted by Balderas and other attorneys general of hiring national law firms to represent New Mexico in complex multi-state civil litigation, calling it tantamount to “pay to play” because the firms contribute to the AGs campaign coffers. Colón defended the practice as vital to ensuring the state’s best interests were represented, and promised transparency in selection of outside attorneys.
Colón has served as State Auditor since winning election in 2018. He had unsuccessful bids for Albuquerque mayor in 2017 and for lieutenant governor in 2010 on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish, who served as lieutenant governor in the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson.
Torrez won his first bid for public office in 2016 and then was reelected in 2020. He made headlines over the past year for his efforts to reform the pretrial detention system. Attempts to make it easier for judges to hold certain defendants pending trial failed earlier this year.
Colón, meanwhile, pointed to his work in public service, and seeking transparency as state auditor. With a background in finance, he touted his office’s record of holding public officials accountable, such as the former mayor of Las Vegas who was later convicted of bid rigging and abuse of office.
The job of attorney general includes responsibility for enforcing open records and open meetings. The AG also prosecutes and defends cases in the New Mexico Supreme Court, New Mexico Court of Appeals, or any other court or tribunal in which the state is a party or is interested.
While the AG’s office is the state’s top law enforcement officer, the agency isn’t on the front line of prosecuting crimes. That’s left to district attorneys in the state. But both candidates said they could use the office as a “bully-pulpit” to campaign for changes in criminal law.
This year’s primary election is the first since 2006 to draw more than one candidate for the Democratic AG nomination. That year, former legislator Gary King emerged from a three-way race to win the nomination and the general election.
The winner of this year’s primary will face Republican attorney Gay of Gallup in the fall general election. The winner of the Democratic primary for Attorney General typically wins the general election, given that only three Republicans have won the seat in the state’s 110-year-history.