Seven Democrats battle for Ben Ray Lujan's seat
Last updated 5/12/2020 at 3:38pm
In Northern New Mexico’s U.S. House race, a packed primary could come down to hefty checkbooks and pricey TV ads.
At a time when everyone is a potential vector of a deadly disease, a crowded field of candidates in the 3rd Congressional District is being forced to rely on hands-off methods — television, radio and digital ads — to get the message out.
The June 2 primary is only 20 days away, and the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján likely will come down to the winner of the Democratic battle: seven candidates seeking to secure a historically blue district during an unprecedented pandemic.
Since the district’s creation in 1983, only one Republican has held the seat — former minister and university teacher Bill Redmond, from 1997-99.
Anyone watching the local evening news is likely to be bombarded with advertisements from Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez, former CIA operative Valerie Plame, Santa Fe District Attorney Marco Serna and former New Mexico Deputy Secretary of State John Blair. The four have dominated the field when it comes to TV ad buys.
That’s a crucial disadvantage for others at a time when shaking hands in this down-home district is out of the question and voters are essentially a captive audience.
“Those are the finalists because they’ve got enough money to run the ads,” said University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson.
Other candidates include Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya of Rio Rancho, first-term state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde and Taos environmental attorney Kyle Tisdel.
Although Montoya came in second place at the party’s pre-primary nominating convention, she and the rest of the pack have lagged in campaign fundraising compared to Plame and Leger Fernandez and currently are not airing television ads.
For campaigns in the era of COVID-19, money may matter more than ever, said longtime Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff.
“So many people are staying at home, and so many people are interested in getting local and national news regarding the pandemic,” Sanderoff said. “TV ratings have skyrocketed both for broadcast and cable news. So more people are seeing these TV ads than in the past.”
Television always has been important in the enormous district, which includes Clovis, Portales and Tucumcari, and where knocking on every door from Shiprock to Clayton is out of the question. But it likely will play an even more critical role at a time when people are nearly always at home during the COVID-19 crisis, Sanderoff said.
It’s likely the race will come down to who voters like on a gut level and how well known the candidate is, UNM’s Atkeson said.
“Name recognition. Character. Do I like the woman or the man? Do I like the Hispanic or the white person? Who do I know, and then gender and race become cues,” she added.