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GOP defends high offices in border state of New Mexico

November 4, 2018
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In this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 photo, New Mexico gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, middle, gives a campaign speech in Santa Fe, N.M., alongside the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Howie Morales. Grisham is competing against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a consecutive third term. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
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In this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 photo, New Mexico gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, middle, gives a campaign speech in Santa Fe, N.M., alongside the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Howie Morales. Grisham is competing against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a consecutive third term. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Republicans are trying to defend their hold on the governor’s office and a key congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tuesday’s election, as Democrats stoke discontent with President Donald Trump while calling for education reforms and pointing to persistently high poverty rates that are unrivaled in the American West.

Republican Steve Pearce is one of the two members of Congress running for governor. He has taken aim at concerns about crime, appearing in the campaign’s final week with police union leaders and running attack ads that paint his Democratic opponent as sympathetic toward criminals.

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham has highlighted her experience as the former state health secretary, rallying supporters with calls for expanding medical coverage through a Medicaid buy-in plan.

Lujan Grisham also has sought to tie Pearce to Trump’s political agenda. Pearce campaigned last week in southern New Mexico with Vice President Mike Pence and has reiterated the need for a secure border.

The winner of the gubernatorial election will have a surging budget surplus to work with for the coming fiscal year — an estimated $1.2 billion windfall linked to booming oil production in the state’s southeastern corner.

Pearce favors spending on infrastructure to spur private sector employment. Lujan Grisham has emphasized the need to spend more on education and child protective services.

Democrats are positioned potentially to regain control of most major levers in state government, as they defend majorities in both legislative chambers and Democratic incumbents seek re-election as attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.

In the state’s southern congressional district — once safely Republican — Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has raised vastly more campaign cash than Republican nominee and state Rep. Yvette Herrell. The race is seen as a bellwether in the battle for Congress.

“If Torres Small wins, it’s a direct indicator that the blue wave was pretty massive this time around,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor.

Herrell’s campaign has focused on mobilizing rural Republican voters while promoting conservative endorsements on gun rights. She declined to participate in debates. Torres Small, a water-rights attorney, has urged constituents to “vote the person, not the party” in ads that show her hunting with a rifle and talking about border security.

The race to replace Lujan Grisham in an Albuquerque-based congressional district could vault the first Native American woman from New Mexico into Congress.

Former state Democratic Party chairwoman Debra Haaland, a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, is running in the Democratic-leaning 1st District against former state lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is seeking a second term in a three-way race against Libertarian Gary Johnson — a former governor and presidential candidate — and Republican political newcomer Mick Rich.

Heinrich has cast himself as an adept advocate for New Mexico’s military bases and weapons research facilities — and a dedicated adversary to Trump.

Rich has embraced a variety of the president’s policies, including hardline rhetoric on immigration, sounding the alarm about a looming invasion as a caravan of several thousand migrants heads north to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In raucous televised debates, Johnson warned that younger generations will get “screwed” by unchecked federal deficit spending, offering to act as a potent and independent swing vote in the Senate.

Johnson also campaigned as a longtime advocate for federal decriminalization of marijuana and state authorization of recreational use — a position now embraced by the Democratic candidates for Senate and governor and opposed by their Republican rivals.

In other competitive races, Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard is seeking to bring an educator’s perspective to the State Land Office, which oversees oil and gas drilling and renewable energy projects across millions of acres of state trust land to help fund public education.

Republican challenger Pat Lyons, an eastern New Mexico rancher, has twice served as land commissioner and currently sits on the Public Regulation Commission.

Attorney General Hector Balderas is competing against Republican Michael Hendricks, an immigration attorney, and Libertarian A. Blair Dunn, an Albuquerque-based attorney.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is running against Republican Gavin Clarkson and Libertarian Ginger Grider.

Republican Arthur Castillo, a military veteran and former chief financial officer in the state treasurer’s office, is challenging incumbent State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg.

Republican-appointed State Auditor Wayne Johnson is defending his job against Democratic challenger Brian Colon, an Albuquerque attorney.

In the state House, Republicans are looking to reverse a 38-32 Democratic majority. Voters will decide 36 contested House races.

In northern New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan sought a sixth term in a competition with Republican Jerald Steve McFall and Libertarian Chris Manning.

Ballot initiatives could allow lawmakers to streamline the appeals process throughout the state judiciary and possibly create an independent ethics commission to oversee the conduct of elected officials, public employees, lobbyists and others.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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