Republicans crowd into primary race for governor, Congress

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Candidates are crowding into the Republican primary election to challenge Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as well as first-term Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque in a newly drawn First District.

New Mexico’s 2022 election landscape came into sharp focus on Tuesday during the one-day registration period for primary contestants to pursue major-party nominations that include the Libertarian Party.

Democrats control every statewide elected office, as Lujan Grisham seeks a second term. She led the state through the coronavirus outbreak with aggressive emergency health mandates and vaccination programs, and is proposing tax cuts and tougher criminal penalties and bail provisions in response to surging crime rates in Albuquerque.

GOP contenders for governor include former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2020 against Ben Ray Luján. State Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, a consultant to early childhood providers, also filed a signature petition to enter the Republican primary, along with second-term Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block.

Additional GOP contenders include anti-abortion activist Ethel Maharg of Albuquerque and West Point graduate Greg Zanetti of Albuquerque. Zanetti lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1994 to Walter Bradley, who won the general election alongside Gov. Gary Johnson.

First-term congresswomen are defending all three New Mexico congressional districts under newly drawn political boundaries that divvy up the state’s conservative oil-producing region in the southeast of the state.

Several statewide offices are on the ballot, including secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and land commissioner overseeing New Mexico’s vast underground oil and natural gas reserves.

Stansbury, who won a special congressional election in 2021, is defending an Albuquerque-anchored seat held by Democrats for more than a decade. In December, the district added a swath of rural, conservative leaning territory to the southeast of Albuquerque.

Republican contenders for Stansbury’s seat include Albuquerque city councilor Louie Sanchez, who owns a firearms store a shooting range and ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to U.S. Senate in 2020, and perennial Republican political candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, a former police detective and administrator for the state attorney general’s office.

Garcia Holmes ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018 and lost a run for Congress in 2020 to Deb Haaland, before Haaland’s appointment as U.S. secretary of interior. Jacquelyn Reeve and Joshua Taylor Neal also are seeking the GOP nomination in the First District.

Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez is among contenders seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell in a district that recently annexed heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of Albuquerque.

In northern and eastern New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez is defending her seat in a possible rematch against Republican contender Alexis Martinez Johnson of Santa Fe, who lost to Leger Fernandez by 17 percentage points in 2020. Jerald McFall also is pursuing the Republican nomination in the 3rd District, where he lost by more than 30 percentage points in 2018.

Candidates will vie in open races to serve as the state’s top public prosecutor with the departure next year of Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Contenders for the Democratic nomination include Raúl Torrez, district attorney to the Albuquerque region, and Brian Colón, who is stepping down at state auditor. Gallup-based attorney Jeremy Michael Gay is seeking the Republican nomination.

Termed-out State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg is endorsing as a potential successor to Democrat Heather Benavidez, a former municipal and magistrate judge who oversees state treasury programs including investment and savings accounts for people with disabilities. She’ll vie for the Democratic nomination against Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya, with Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya seeking the GOP nomination.