New Mexico congressional race to succeed Deb Haaland takes shape

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 15, the Senate confirmed her as Interior Secretary.

SANTA FE - Rep. Deb Haaland's departure from Congress to serve as U.S. Interior Department secretary will trigger a special election to choose a successor, starting with a rarely invoked nomination process that relies on a small group of major-party political insiders.

Haaland's resignation from Congress, likely to be formalized Tuesday, sets in motion a general election for her 1st Congressional District seat, likely to be held in June.

Republican, Democratic and possibly Libertarian party nominees will be chosen by fewer than 200 members of the parties' central committees.

First Congressional District voters rejected the Democratic nominee under similar procedures in 1998 to elect Heather Wilson, and rebuffed another Democratic central-committee pick in 1997 when Rep. Bill Richardson left the state's northern 3rd Congressional District for the post of U.N. ambassador.

More:Independent NM voters surpass 20%, but lack representation. Lawmakers are unswayed.

The 1st Congressional District has grown increasingly progressive since then, electing Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham — now governor — three times and Haaland twice, with a 16% margin of victory in 2020. 

In Bernalillo County, the district's core population base, Donald Trump won just 36% of the vote in 2021. The district also encompasses rural Torrance County and portions of Sandoval and Valencia counties.

A bipartisan bill has stalled in the state Legislature that would reform the nomination process for congressional vacancies between elections by requiring a district-wide primary election. Co-sponsors include a contender for the GOP congressional nomination, state Sen. Mark Moores, a former football lineman at the University of New Mexico.

Republican contenders also include talk radio show host Eddy Aragon, attorney and Clovis native Jared Vander Dussen and Michaela Chavez, a bookkeeper who unsuccessfully ran last year for state Senate.

Contenders for the Democratic nomination include state Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Georgene Louis, and state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. Attorney Randi McGinn and Victor Reyes, the former legislative liaison to Gov. Lujan Grisham, also are seeking the nomination.

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