2 seek changing NM 1st District Congress seat

October 26, 2012 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It’s a congressional district that has historically elected Republicans, although registered Democratic voters have had an edge. And for years, both parties have spent millions fighting for control of the swing district that often has helped determine the balance of power in Congress.

But political observers say demographic shifts and a growing Latino population may be changing New [auth] Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which this year has seen one of its quietest races in history between former Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and former state lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones, a Republican.

Heading into the final days, Lujan Grisham is widely favored to win the open seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich, who is running for U.S. Senate against Republican Heather Wilson, who held the seat from 1998 to 2009.

If she wins, the balance of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation will likely remain unchanged as the state’s other two representatives — Democrat Ben Ray Lujan of Northern New Mexico and Republican Steve Pearce from the south — are expected to easily win re-election.

Unlike the nasty Democratic primary fight, where Lujan Grisham narrowly won a three-way race that included former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez and State Sen. Eric Griego, the general election has been “a ho-hum race,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor.

“This district used to be a drag-out dog fight,” he said.

Sanchez said the difference this year stems from the district’s changing demographics and a lack of presence in New Mexico by the national Republican Party.

According to a poll earlier this month by the Albuquerque Journal, Lujan Grisham leads Arnold-Jones 51 percent to 31 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

The two have tried to distinguish themselves with opposing visions on health care, job creation and the role of the federal government.

On the campaign trail, Republican Arnold-Jones has pushed streamlining the tax code and decreasing government regulations, two moves she said would help spark growth in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country.

“Regulations have been choking our business,” said Arnold-Jones, who represented parts of Albuquerque in the state Legislature from 2003 to 2011. “I’d also like to make us more energy independent.”

The former energy department contractor lived in Japan and Thailand, as well as a number of states, during her husband’s service in the Navy. That experience has led her to also stress foreign policy in debates with Lujan Grisham.

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Lujan Grisham has stressed “public-private partnerships” in helping spur a sluggish economy and has vowed to fight any effort to restructure Medicare.

“I think that cutting our way out of our financial problems won’t solve our problems,” said Lujan Grisham, an attorney and a distant cousin to former Rep. Manuel Lujan, a Republican who held the seat from 1969 to 1989. “I want to reinvest in some of our domestic strategies.”

Lujan Grisham is the granddaughter of Eugene Lujan, the first Hispanic Chief Justice of New Mexico’s Supreme Court.

Both women have stressed their records in working with members of the other party. Arnold-Jones said, as a state lawmaker, she worked with the largely Democratic House on various pieces of legislation. Lujan Grisham points to her efforts in leading the New Mexico State Agency on Aging under Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican.

In the heavily Democratic 3rd District, Ben Ray Lujan is being challenged by Jeff Byrd, a rancher from Quay County who also has worked in the oil industry. In the Republican 2nd District, Rep. Steve Pearce faces Evelyn Madrid Erhard, a community college professor from Mesilla.

Sanchez said if the current demographic changes continue, the state’s 1st Congressional District may become a safe Democratic seat. “However, if the economy picks up and we begin to see more out-of-staters move into the district, then I think Republicans will have a shot again,” he said.

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