Democrats keep New Mexico Senate seat with Luján victory

Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio
Associated Press
Ben Ray Lujan

SANTA FE - Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján won election Tuesday to the U.S. Senate in New Mexico.

Lujàn, a six-term congressman from northern New Mexico, defeated Republican former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and Libertarian scientist Bob Walsh.

Luján rose to the No. 4 position in Democratic House leadership and ran uncontested in the primary. His election Tuesday to succeed Sen. Tom Udall as he retires marks a resurgence of Latino political leadership in a state with the largest share of Hispanic residents.

On the campaign trail, Luján emphasized support for consumer health protections under the Affordable Care Act and highlighted President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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State Democrats including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have condemned Trump’s handling of the coronavirus response.

Voters cast more than 890,000 on Election Day, easily surpassing New Mexico’s previous record of 833,000 ballots in the 2008 presidential election.

Ronchetti – a television-savvy, first-time political candidate – seized on themes of law-and-order and cast himself as an ally of police and sheriffs departments.

Luján also cast himself as a proponent of new investments in clean-energy infrastructure projects and a supporter of the environmental efforts pursued by Udall, the son of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Santa Fe scientist Bob Walsh was also on the ballot for Senate under the Libertarian Party banner.

Democrats need to pick up three or four seats in the U.S. Senate to take majority control, depending on who wins as president.

New Mexico flipped the governor’s office to Democratic control in 2018, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and sided with Barack Obama in his two presidential victories.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 14 percentage points, or about 180,000 people among the state’s approximately 1.35 million registered voters.

But Republicans controlled the governor’s office as recently 2018 in a state with strong currents of Roman Catholicism and an enduring Libertarian streak.

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In Santa Fe, 35-year-old art gallery director Jamie Garrison voted for Democratic candidates across presidential, Senate and House races.

“For me it was a moral choice,” she said. “I believe that Black lives matter, I believe in a woman’s right to choose, so I wanted to vote for a candidate that reflects my beliefs.”

Democratic attorney and voter-access advocate Teresa Leger Fernandez won an open race to succeed Luján in the Democratic-dominated 3rd District, defeating Republican engineer Alexis Johnson. And U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland won election to a second term to the Albuquerque-based 1st District by defeating Republican former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes.

In southern New Mexico, Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is trying to hold her traditionally GOP-leaning seat against Republican challenger Yvette Herrell in a rematch that will hinge on turnout.

The state’s top election regulator has estimated that the statewide vote-counting effort is likely to extend through Wednesday or Thursday amid a surge in absentee ballots that take more time to verify and tally.

The entire Legislature is also up for election. Democrats are defending their state House and Senate majorities.

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Republicans legislative candidates are taking on a greater number of more liberal Democratic candidates selected by voters in primaries.

A wave of female state House Democrats won election in 2018 – opening up legislative gun control measures, a public education spending spree and mandates for renewable energy development signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Two state Supreme Court seats are contested, and a ballot measure would overhaul the Public Regulation Commission that oversees electric utilities, pipeline safety and telecommunications.

Voters are being asked if they want the panel made up of five elected members instead of having three appointed by the governor.

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