New Mexico Republicans gave a go-ahead Saturday to former state party chairman Allen Weh in his bid to earn the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, though political newcomer David Clements raised eyebrows with his showing at the party’s pre-primary convention in Albuquerque.
The result means the two candidates will face off for the Senate nomination in the June 3 primary election, since both easily cleared the 20 percent mark needed for a convention designation to the primary ballot.
With more than 750 votes cast, Weh received the backing of 53.2 percent of the Republican Party delegates, while Clements received 46.8 percent of the convention vote.
Clements, a 34-year-old attorney from Las Cruces, said many party insiders had previously doubted whether he could clear the 20 percent threshold.
“I think it gives us a lot of momentum,” Clements told reporters after the vote count was announced. “We surprised some folks.”
Weh, an Albuquerque businessman and retired Marine Corps colonel, told the Journal he was pleased with Saturday’s vote results, pointing out he only announced his candidacy on Jan. 9 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Tom Udall, a Democrat.
“You jump into a race and win it in 52 days, there’s nothing shabby about that,” Weh said.
He also said he hopes the primary election race between Clements and himself does not turn negative, adding, “It won’t be bumpy because of anything we do.”
Republican Party delegates from all 33 New Mexico counties attended Saturday’s event, which was held at the Albuquerque Marriott hotel. Democrats are scheduled to hold their own pre-primary convention on March 8.
In the only other contested GOP race, Corrales business owner Mike Frese outpaced Albuquerque businessman and retired Army officer Richard Priem in convention voting for the 1st Congressional District nomination.
Both candidates will appear on the primary election ballot, however, as Frese received 63.6 percent of the delegate votes cast Saturday and Priem got 36.4 percent.
In their speeches to delegates, both Frese and Priem criticized Democratic policies, with Frese attempting to link U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., the incumbent, to President Barack Obama.
Frese said he hopes to emulate the recent electoral success of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Gov. Susana Martinez, both Republicans.
Referring to Martinez, who is seeking a second term in office this year, Frese said, “It would not embarrass me to ride her coattails to victory.”
For his part, Priem said he intends to hit the campaign trail hard in coming weeks and pointed out his opponent had a head start on him leading up to the pre-primary convention.
Meanwhile, Martinez, who has no primary election opposition, urged GOP candidates to avoid infighting.
“We must be united in this fight, then we can win races up and down the ballot,” Martinez told party delegates.
In addition to Martinez, three other Republican incumbents faced no intra-party opposition Saturday.
The three are U.S. Rep Steve Pearce, who represents the southern-New Mexico based 2nd Congressional District, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran.
Other unopposed GOP candidates winning primary ballot designations Saturday included:
- 3rd Congressional District – Jefferson Byrd;
- Attorney general – Susan Riedel;
- State treasurer – Rick Lopez;
- State auditor – Robert Aragon;
- Public lands commissioner – Aubrey Dunn; and
- Court of Appeals judge – Miles Hanisee.