Open Senate, House races test Democratic hold on New Mexico

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Democrats in Tuesday’s election are striving to maintain control of New Mexico’s delegation to the U.S. Senate and hand Joe Biden a presidential victory, while Republicans are trying to flip a Senate seat and change the course of statewide politics.

In an open Senate race, northern New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Luján was vying to succeed Sen. Tom Udall and leap to the upper chamber of Congress.

Luján’s challenger, Republican former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti tried to tap into discontent over crime and Democratic initiatives.

The television-savvy, first-time political candidate seized on themes of law-and-order and cast himself as an ally of police and sheriffs departments as President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to Albuquerque to crack down on crime.

Luján highlighted his support for consumer protection elements of the Affordable Care Act that Trump and Senate Republicans have pushed to overturn, with a legal challenge to Obamacare looming before a conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

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.

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

In three debates, New Mexico’s Senate candidates blamed each other’s parties for stalled talks on a new economic relief package in Congress, as New Mexico’s unemployment rate hovers above 9% and among the 10 worst states for joblessness.

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 1.3 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. Santa Fe scientist Bob Walsh was also on the the ballot for Senate under the Libertarian Party banner.

Democratic attorney and voter-access advocate Teresa Leger Fernandez is competing in an open race to succeed Luján in the Democratic-dominated 3rd District, competing against Republican engineer Alexis Johnson.

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.

Looming over Election Day voting is a steady surge in average daily coronavirus infections and hospitalizations that threatens to overrun emergency rooms.

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.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said law enforcement authorities including the attorney general’s office, FBI and U.S. attorneys office are on alert for any possible instances of interference or intimidation at the polls.

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

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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