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#NativeVote18: Deb Haaland in a tight three-way race; Gavin Clarkson draws controversy with Team Trump flag

#NativeVote18: As voters head to the polls in New Mexico for Deb Haaland, Gavin Clarkson is stirring up controversy running under a Team Trump flag.
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A new poll shows Deb Haaland trailing two of her primary opponents by a slim margin. The New Mexico primary is June 5 and early voting started Saturday.

Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Albuquerque. The crowded primary has become a three-way race between Haaland, former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, and retired University of New Mexico law school professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. A poll by Lake Research shows Lopez at 25 percent; Martinez at 23 percent and Haaland at 20 percent. More than a quarter of the voters surveyed -- 27 percent -- remain undecided.

Take the poll with a grain of salt. It was conducted the weekend of May 13 and the margin of error is 5 percent. That puts the contest at a virtual tie.

On Twitter Haaland wrote: “Let's be honest, there is a reason there has never been a Native American woman elected to Congress or to a Governorship in over 240 years. Our electoral system was not designed to elect women like me. I have some good news, and some bad news.”

“The good news is that we are within the margin of error, and still within easy striking distance. They are drowning our race in money, but our enthusiasm and grassroots support can still win this YOU can make the difference.” And she wrote. “This race will be won or lost by just a few votes, we have no doubt. That means that we need YOU, more than ever. If you've been thinking about getting involved -- by volunteering, donating a few dollars, or telling your friends -- now is the time!”

Haaland’s latest TV ad is called “Ready.” The ad says Congress has never heard a voice like Deb's because there has never been a Native American woman elected to Congress.

American Indians are a small slice of the electorate in Albuquerque. So the challenge is getting voters to see Haaland’s election as a history that they can shape by electing the first Native woman ever.

Further south, Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, seems to attract as much controversy as Donald Trump. Clarkson is running as a supporter of the president’s agenda. He worked at the Interior Department and says he returned to New Mexico to win office and “drain the swamp.”

On Friday Clarkson posted on Facebook support for defunding Planned Parenthood. “Our President is keeping another promise!” He wrote. He supports Trump’s border wall. Clarkson also supports more energy development. He recently said, and tweeted, that “New Mexico will be better off if the tribal communities are mountains of prosperity rather than cesspools of poverty.”

But controversy follows the candidate. There was what he calls a faulty Inspector General report issued about a loan program he was involved with at the Interior Department.

Then New Mexico State University ordered Clarkson to return to the classroom saying he was on leave to work for the Trump administration. However Clarkson said a university hearing included "all of the expected horrors of a fundamentally flawed process tainted by transparently partisan and political considerations.” He said continue his appeals through the university and if necessary take the issue to court.

Roger Stone’s conservative, Trump-aligned website, Stone Cold Truth, champions Clarkson’s case. In a story that headlined: “EXCLUSIVE: Pro-Trump Professor Fired From University Gavin Clarkson Victim Of Political ‘Hit Job.’”

And Stone appeared with Clarkson on the War Room, a program in Alex Jones’ InfoWars network. Clarkson's segment begins at 22:40.

Roger Stone spoke with Gavin Clarkson on the War Room, a program in Alex Jones’ InfoWars network.

Roger Stone spoke with Gavin Clarkson on the War Room, a program in Alex Jones’ InfoWars network.

Clarkson said on the show: “I am an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. And they (NMSU officials) assume that every member of an Indian tribe is a leftist Democrat. So if you are not, of course, you are a traitor to your people. There is zero tolerance. They talk about diversity, they talk about tolerance. But that’s never afforded to conservative academics. Basically, if you are black and conservative, they’ll call you an ‘Uncle Tom.’ If you are a American Indian and conservative, they’ll call you a ‘Clarence Tomahawk.’ It’s very clear there is an assault on freedom of thought from any conservative. We are unwelcome on campus and they want to get rid of us as quickly as they can.”

Earlier this month a columnist at The Santa Fe New Mexican raised issues about a Clarkson bankruptcy, including personal debt. However Clarkson responded that the financial issues stemmed from real estate guarantees and the slow pace of the “Obama non-recovery.”

The Albuquerque Journal says there is “a lot of excitement” in this Southern New Mexico race. There are four Republicans running in the primary and 2 Democrats. The seat has been held by a Republican, Rep. Steve Pearce, who decided to run for governor rather than seek re-election. It’s the largest district in the country that’s not a single state (fifth largest overall). And Native American voters make up about 5.5 percent of the district.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports