FARMINGTON — In the Democratic primary race for the nomination to represent New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, the incumbent has a significant lead in campaign contributions that the challenger is trying to overcome by knocking on doors.
The candidates — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Robert Blanch — seem to agree that job creation is a priority.
Luján was born and raised in New Mexico. He grew up in Nambe, a small community north of Santa Fe.
His bid for reelection comes as much of the state continues to languish in economic uncertainty. Luján — son of Ben Luján a member of the N.M. House of Representatives for 37 years and House speaker for more than a decade — says job creation ranks first in his campaign.
"Improving the economy is one of my top priorities," Luján said in an email on Friday. "I will continue to focus on job growth in New Mexico through support for critical job training programs and access to affordable, quality education. We must continue to build relationships between the National Labs and local businesses and support the transfer of technology from scientists and engineers to entrepreneurs, enabling them to undertake new business ventures that can create good jobs in our communities."
Robert Blanch, 51, is a native of Boston, Mass. He moved to Albuquerque with his family four years ago from Menlo Park, Calif., after 14 years as an Silicon Valley attorney handling patent protection cases. Blanch quit his job as a prosecutor with the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office in February to campaign full-time after he got enough signatures to secure his run against Luján and he says he has not slowed down since.
In March, Blanch, who has never held elected office, and his wife began crisscrossing the northern third of the state, knocking on doors trying to appeal to voters with a populist message centered on creating more jobs and raising living standards for New Mexicans.
New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District includes San Juan, San Miguel, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Los Alamos, Sandoval, Santa Fe, Taos, Mora, Colfax, Union, Harding, Quay and Curry counties.
Blanch has refused to accept any political action committee money, instead dipping into his personal retirement funds to finance his run for Congress.
"The money's not been great," he said. "I've dipped into my own 401(k) to help, but I'm way out-numbered. We're doing it on our own."
Blanch has approximately $27,000 in campaign money to spend compared to his opponent's $773,263, according to Federal Election Commission records.
"The lack of jobs is what I'm centered on," Blanch said by phone on Friday. "I've gone all over the state and in so many places the main streets are boarded up and young people are leaving to find work elsewhere. I've got some ideas of how to start jobs through public-private partnerships, to help secure jobs. That's the main focus that is really resonating with people."
Along with jobs, Luján has put healthcare and veterans and seniors' benefits high on his agenda in bills he has sponsored or cosponsored.
"As a native New Mexican born, raised, and educated here, I learned from my family and fellow New Mexicans about fighting for what's fair," Luján wrote. "I carry those values and the lessons I have learned with me every day. That is why I have taken on health insurance companies that discriminate for preexisting conditions and have put a priority on casework to see that seniors and veterans get their benefits. I'm committed to working for New Mexico and will continue to bring a tireless work ethic to my job as a representative of the people of New Mexico."
Besides jobs, Blanch said he will be a listening legislator, a representative tuned in to voters to gauge what needs there are.
"A lot of people are telling me that they don't have any representation — no one's listening to their concerns — and I'm hoping I can change that," Blanch said. "Instead of having a lot of fixed positions and agendas, I'm interested in having town hall meetings to find out what's needed most."
Blanch said he was inspired to knock on doors and collect signatures during the government shutdown.
"I got motivated to run during the shutdown. Washington is too dysfunctional. No one's really working in D.C., and I just figured I'd see what I could do," he said. "Since March, my wife and I have probably knocked on about (10,000) to 15,000 doors. My shoes are wearing out."
The winner of the Democratic primary next month will face Republican Jefferson Lee Byrd, who lost to Luján in the general election two years ago.
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.