Surprises along the way as New Mexico parties line up candidates
The Associated Press
POJOAQUE, N.M. — Three Native candidates will represent New Mexico's Republican Party in the primary election.
Candidates for an open congressional and Senate seat in New Mexico underwent the first test of their political might as the Democratic and Republican parties of New Mexico held statewide conventions. Each party will list two candidates in each federal race. However candidates that did not win a party endorsement could still make the ballot by collecting signatures.
Navajo Nation member and anti-abortion advocate Elisa Martinez won the top ballot position in the GOP Senate primary. She will vie against well-recognized television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.
Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, was fifth out of five candidates at the convention.
Karen Bedonie, Navajo Nation, earned the second ballot position for the Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District and will face Harry Montoya in the primary.
Former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, Cherokee Nation, earned top billing on a two-way Republican primary ballot for the 2nd Congressional District, winning roughly twice as many delegate votes as conservative former oil industry lobbyist Claire Chase. Democrats flipped the district in 2018 when U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small defeated Herrell.
Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the GOP's primary candidates come from diverse backgrounds and are well positioned to campaign as allies of Trump on issues of abortion, gun rights, public safety and employment gains under a vibrant national economy.
On the Democratic side: Teresa Leger Fernandez, a legal adviser to Native American communities and activist on voting rights and affordable housing issues, won top position on the June 2 primary ballot, alongside Laura Montoya, a second-term county treasurer.
Both Hispanic women hail from politically active families in Las Vegas, New Mexico. They emerged from a field of seven initial candidates seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running for U.S. Senate as Democratic Sen. Tom Udall retires. Democrats have monopolized the 3rd Congressional District since its creation in 1982 with the exception of one special election.
Leger Fernandez arrived at the state convention with the endorsement of pro-abortion rights group Emily´s List and the Courage to Change political committee organized by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She received about 42 percent of delegate ballots, while Montoya just cleared the 20 percent threshold to make the ballot.
"I had on the stage with me Native Americans, Navajos, pueblos, young people, old people, ranchers," said Leger Fernandez, whose campaign has emphasized affordable access to health care and environmental initiatives. "This is a coalition of every part of this district."
Montoya lives in rapidly growing Sandoval County and Rio Rancho — where Trump held a political rally in August to declare his push for a 2020 victory in New Mexico. Her low-budget social media ads include a selfie-video soliciting gas money from a service station on the campaign trail.
Former CIA operative Valerie Plame's bid for that congressional seat fell flat at a statewide Democratic convention Saturday where she failed to win enough local delegate votes to automatically qualify for the primary ballot.
She vowed to stay in contention by submitting more petition signatures from supporters.
Plame campaign manager Alex Koren said that she will qualify for the ballot with "signatures from voters who are excited to support a battle-tested candidate with national experience ... who hasn't been anointed by party insiders."
In the Senate race, Luján hopes to parlay his voice and experience as the fourth-ranked Democrat in Congress into victory in an increasingly blue state where Democrats hold both Senate and all three congressional seats, along with every statewide office outside the judiciary. A second major Democratic contender dropped out of the race in October, clearing Luján's path to the nomination.
Indian Country Today contributed to this report.