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Updated: State Rep. Jeff Steinborn to run for seat held by incumbent GOP senator

A high-stakes legislative battle is brewing in southern New Mexico, as Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, announced today he plans to run next year for the Senate seat held by Lee Cotter, a Las Cruces Republican.

While both candidates still have to win their party’s 2016 nomination, a Steinborn-Cotter contest could be key in determining control of the Senate. Democrats currently hold a 24-18 advantage in the chamber, but Republicans are hoping to pick up enough seats next year to win a majority.

Based on 2010 redistricting data, voters in Senate District 36 — which stretches from Las Cruces to Hatch — tended to slightly favor Democratic candidates in most recent statewide elections.

Steinborn, who is currently in his second stint in the House, acknowledged the political risk of vacating his House seat, but said in an interview today the Senate seat is “a seat where I think we can do better for Doña Ana County.”

He also said that, if elected to the Senate, he would focus on education, job creation, ethics reform and greater transparency in state government.

Cotter won election to the Senate in 2012, defeating former Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, a Democrat. Next year would be his first re-election bid.

In a statement, Cotter indicated that, if re-elected, he would seek to improve New Mexico’s economy and support some of Gov. Susana Martinez’s education initiatives.

“Southern New Mexico does not want to return to the failed policies of the past 85 years: We need to move forward and continue to diversify our economy so we are competitive with our neighboring states,” Cotter said in the statement.