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GOP picks Mark Moores to run US House seat that Haaland held

March 27, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 15, the Senate confirmed her as Interior Secretary. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 15, the Senate confirmed her as Interior Secretary. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2021, file photo Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 15, the Senate confirmed her as Interior Secretary. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A cadre of New Mexico state Republican Party leaders on Saturday chose state Sen. Mark Moores to run for the Albuquerque-based congressional seat held by Deb Haaland before she was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Moores won 40% of the 121 votes cast during a videoconference meeting by members of the Republican Party central committee who live in the 1st Congressional District.

The seven-candidate field also included conservative radio talk show host Eddy Aragon, who placed second with 28% of the vote.

Democrats have held the 1st District seat since 2009. But Republicans see an opening in a potentially low-turnout special election set for June 1.

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The district has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Contenders for the Republican nomination highlighted the state’s progressive political shift on entitlement spending and social issues, vowing to help withhold federal funding for abortion and condemning the Legislature’s move to legalize medical aid in dying and overturn the state’s dormant ban on most abortion procedures.

A three-term state senator, Moores positioned himself as a seasoned campaigner and fundraiser, with a conservative voting record at the Statehouse in Santa Fe on issues of gun rights and natural resources.

“I have a proven track record of voting for our values,” Moores said during the Saturday meeting.

He backed a Republican bill to legalize recreational cannabis in 2019 — he says to keep Democratic legislation at bay — and acknowledged accepting campaign donations from the marijuana industry.

Aragon, an admirer of Rush Limbaugh, cast himself as a political outsider with hardline positions against public unions and enduring support for former President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall project.

At a recent forum, Aragon condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed to “remove terrorist groups like Red Nation” — an advocacy organization for Indigenous rights that has sought the removal of monuments to early Spanish colonial leaders and related public historical pageants.

“They’re literally passing themselves off as the American way,” Aragon said. “My dad would kick my butt.”

Other Republican candidates included attorney and Clovis native Jared Vander Dussen and Michaela Chavez, a bookkeeper who unsuccessfully ran last year for state Senate.

Democrats will pick a nominee through a confidential central committee balloting process that will start Tuesday and could extend for days until one candidate wins greater than 50% of votes.

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Associated Press journalist Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.