Saturday, October 17, 2020

Friday, October 16, 2020

Virus Spike Could Spur More Absentee Voting And State Questioned Over Covid Outbreaks At Jails, Prisons And Homeless Facilities 

With Covid cases spiraling to a new high in New Mexico there could be increased hesitance by voters to participate in early in-person voting or go to the polls Election Day. That makes the October 20 deadline for requesting an absentee ballot all the more urgent. Voters can do that here. It's really the easy way to go and nearly 400,000 New Mexicans have already done so. There's room for plenty more. 

Meanwhile, the Governor briefed the state on the fresh coronavirus outbreak, saying "we are in uncharted waters" and warning increased restrictions could come soon if the virus is not contained. 

While MLG was chastising the public for not following steps to contain the virus, social media was questioning her administration's inability to stop major Covid outbreaks at jails, prisons and homeless facilities.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase noted during Friday's briefing that he was aware of outbreaks at homeless shelters around the nation in the spring, yet New Mexico is now suffering those same outbreaks which could spread easily to the general population. Ditto for released prisoners. So why no early, effective action to prevent today's outbreaks?

The state government and nursing home industry has been successful in containing the virus since the spring outbreaks that claimed many elderly lives, but there are holes in managing the virus in Santa Fe and ABQ when it comes to jails and prisons (some of which are federal) and homeless facilities. They need to be filled pronto. 

Large swaths of the state's economy continue to be crippled by the virus restrictions. Another round of them would drop more businesses and employees to the canvas. Deaths are fewer during this current outbreak and hospitals, while getting more cases, are not overwhelmed. There is room to pause here before again slamming on the breaks on an already shaky economy and weary population. Meanwhile, it is up to all of us to wear our masks when needed, practice social distancing and wash our hands. 


And you think you have computer problems? Look at this from Dem state senate candidate Siah Correa Hemphill:

Thursday night, I participated in a zoom meeting organized by the Democratic Party of Grant County. Trump supporters hijacked the meeting with racist profanity and lewd behavior. To the shock of everyone, they shut down the entire meeting, and one of the men pulled down his pants and exposed himself.

Correa Hemphill is running against Republican Jimbo Williams for a SW NM seat and we guess now running away from zoom meetings. 


Wrap up another wacky week in La Politica if you please, reader Jim McClure:

 Joe, as a new resident of Los Lunas I’m enjoying the spaghetti-western campaign for the southern congressional district. Democrat Xochitl Torres-Small is positioning herself as a moderate by toting guns in her campaign commercials like a woke Annie Oakley. Republican Yvette Herrell is shooting guns, too, because she's a Republican. It’s great to see our politicians upholding the New Mexico tradition of Billy the Kid. 


So what's on the weekend agenda? Some home cooking? A reader helps out with How To Cook Pasta Perfectly. Bon Appétit. . . 

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Key ABQ Senate Races Poised To Go Dem? Plus: Move To Abolish PRC Draws Opposition And Your Rulebook For Absentee Voting 

Harold Pope isn't shy about his chances of ousting ABQ GOP Westside State Senator Sander Rue. He believes the seat is ready to "flip" to the Dems. The retired Air Force veteran, who would be the first African-American to serve in the Senate, has a point, according to insiders, Alligators and wall-leaners tracking Campaign '20.

The Rue seat (District 23) is now seen as the most vulnerable held by the R's. Campaign polling, changing demographics, the unique nature of Pope's candidacy and his heftier campaign chest all weigh in his favor. 

In 2016 Rue only narrowly won re-election 52-48. Now he has Trump's ABQ weakness to contend with. He has tried to style himself a moderate Republican, a near extinct species, but the working class Dem  families that have come to dominate the district may not be listening. This is more of a bread and butter election about healthcare and jobs and, of course, Trump.

Two other GOP seats in the metro are also now seen leaning to the Dems as the early votes flow in. The ABQ North Valley seat held by first term Senator Candace Gould is set to tip if a BernCo blue wave against Trump forms, as it appears to be. Gould only narrowly own the district 51 to 49 four years ago when Dem Hillary Clinton carried it 46 to Trump's 41. Like Rue, Gould has reached out to moderate voters but Dem challenger Katy Duhigg has a well-known political name, has outraised her and has the Dems motivated.

In the NE Heights the GOP senate candidacy of retired Air Force intelligence officer John Morton suffered a blow when the ABQ Journal endorsed Democratic Dr. Martin Hickey. It was an unexpected rebuke of Morton who is hoping to replace R Sen Bill Payne who is vacating the seat. But Hickey's status as a medical doctor in a time of pandemic and his robust fundraising, which has far outpaced that of Morton, appears to be putting him in the driver's seat in the final days. 

Democrats are also upbeat about the chances of Brenda McKenna, a staffer for Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland who is trying to succeed Dem Sen. John Sapien who is vacating a largely Sandoval County swing senate seat. She is opposed by business owner John Clark. Dem analysts say this district is set to go to McKenna if Trump runs weak. How close is District 9? Well, in 2016 Clinton beat Trump there by the tiny margin of 48.93% to 47.93%.


Could there be an upset at the polls and the constitutional amendment that would abolish the elected Public Regulation Commission (PRC) in favor of one appointed by the Governor go down to defeat? That's hard to see given the big enviro money backing the amendment as well as the support of MLG. But New Mexicans do like to elect their public officials. And that's the message the chairman of the Commission, Steve Fischmann, says he has been picking up. In fact, he says it has made him switch his position from favoring the proposed Governor appointed three member commission to keeping the elected five member panel. 

As a sitting commissioner, I supported the legislature’s decision. Appointing commissioners appeared to be a plausible step towards addressing the expertise gap we often see at the commission. Constituent discussions and recent developments have caused me to have a change of heart. Newly adopted statutes specify that six of the seven people who identify “qualified nominees” from which PRC Commission appointments will be made will be selected by legislative leadership and the Governor’s cabinet members. The Governor and our legislative leaders run political action committees (PACs) that often take large contributions from big utilities. While they have made admirable strides in speeding New Mexico’s transition to renewable energy, there have been widespread complaints about big giveaways to power companies in the process. 

Northern PRC Dem candidate Joe Maestas is also voting agains the PRC amendment, saying: 

Don’t be swayed by mail propaganda and distorted TV ads from the Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers PAC that is pushing for the passage of this amendment under the guise of “voter education.” This PAC was recently caught violating campaign finance laws and has already funneled over $250K of dark money from anonymous, out-of-state donors into this campaign. As a publicly-financed candidate, I know that I won’t be bought by dark PAC money and neither will New Mexico voters. My hope is that voters will send a powerful and overwhelming message to industry insiders and special interests that hide behind PACs by rejecting Constitutional Amendment 1. 

The New York-based Environmental Defense Fund is the group that has been spending the money to advance the amendment and without any paid opposition many observers believe it will pass. 

Pros and cons on the amendment here.


The Biden-Harris ticket has released a 15 page Plan for Tribal Nations. Among other things, it calls for partnering. . . 

. . . with tribes and women’s advocates by providing support for tribal justice systems, increasing data collection methods, and directing the Department of Justice to investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, of New Mexico added her support for the Biden-Harris campaign’s plan, saying it “lays out a strong path forward for Indian Country.” She added: “I am also especially appreciative of Joe Biden’s commitment to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women which has plagued our communities for far too long.”

Much of the plan centers on impacting health outcomes. The Navajo Reservation has been among the hardest hit areas for coronavirus. About 11 percent of New Mexico's population is classified as Native American.


Meanwhile, Haaland comes with a jaw dropping financial report. She says she raised $546,000 in the third quarter and has $525,000 in cash on hand. Her Republican opponent Michelle Garcia Holmes ended September with $150,000 in cash. She also lists a personal loan debt of $118,000.

Haaland has a commanding lead in the polls and is not expected to spend anywhere near what cash she has in the bank. Democratic candidates around the nation have been reporting similar startling fund-raising numbers. It raises the question of whether they should consider donating some of the excess to charities that help the many people suffering economically from the coronavirus? What say you, Deb?


This will be the first election in the lifetime of many voters when they vote absentee due to the coronavirus. The Secretary of State says so far over 358,000 absentee ballot requests have been made and over 100,000 New Mexicans have already voted absentee or in person.

Because of the novelty of absentee voting for thousands of New Mexicans Common Cause NM comes with an in-depth question and answer guide on everything you want and need to know about absentee voting. 

Voters have until Oct. 20 to request an absentee and can do so here. It's best to mail the ballot back by Oct. 27 so the postal service gets it to the county clerk by election day Nov. 3. Absentees received after 7 p.m. Nov. 3 will not be counted. You can also track the status of your absentee ballot at the above link.


Back by popular demand or maybe Catholic guilt, we resume Friday blogging tomorrow and for the duration of the campaign, so be sure to stop by for your political fix. 

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Record Setting Number of Openly Gay And Lesbian Candidates In Legislative Contests, Plus: Southern Nail-Biter Watched In DC And Playing For Senate Pro Tem Continues 

Sen. Candelaria
It's a small number but the most ever, according to ABQ Dem State Senator Jacob Candelaria. He checks in with the news that there are six openly gay and lesbian candidates, including himself, seeking legislative seats in November. If they all win, as expected, that would be 5 percent of the seats in the Legislature. All 70 House and 42 Senate seats are up for election this year. 

There was a flurry of controversy when it was revealed that northern state House candidate Roger Montoya, a respected community organizer and artist, had acted in two gay pornographic films during his college years. But the NM GOP's call for him to withdraw from the race landed with a thud. Republican Justin Salazar-Torres, an Española city councilor, is opposing Montoya. He has not made the gay films a campaign issue. The Governor, the NM Dem Party and House Speaker have doubled down on their support of Montoya. 

Still, Candelaria worries that there are still murmurs of opposition to a conversion therapy bill he sponsored in 2017 and which became law. The measure banned the practice of attempting to get gay minors to change their sexual identity from gay to straight. "There is still much work to do in advancing equal rights," he said.

Candelaria, elected in 2012 and the state's first gay male state Senator, is organizing an Oct. 20 zoom fundraiser for the gay and lesbian legislative candidates. Besides himself and Montoya, they include Carrie Hamblen, the Dem candidate for the Las Cruces senate seat held by Mary Kay Papen who Hamblen defeated in the primary; Brittney Barreras, an independent candidate (who leans Dem) for an ABQ Valley state House seat; Dem. Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe, who became the first openly LGBQT member of the Legislature in 1993 and Leo Jaramillo, who defeated longtime Dem Sen. Richard Martinez in the June primary for District 5 in the north. The GOP candidate challenging Jaramillo is Diamantina Prado Storment. Stefanics is opposed by Republican Joey Tiano

Candelaria is opposed by Republican Manuel Lardizabal and is favored for re-election in the Dem heavy district. Barreras is opposed for the ABQ District 12 seat by write-in hopeful and former Dem BernCo Commissioner Art De La Cruz.

Candelaria says the election of gay and lesbian candidates has a particular impact on gay youth "who can be inspired and see that their dreams can come true" in today's society. 

And NBC News comes with this

More lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer candidates will appear on ballots across the country this November than ever before, according to a new report from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a group that trains, supports and advocates for queer candidates. These candidates are also more racially diverse than in past election cycles, according to the findings.


It's New Mexico's big election nail-biter and here's the latest from the DC pundits:

Top Democratic operatives appear. . . worried about holding a rural seat in southern New Mexico held by Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, another vulnerable freshman. Recent polling shows a virtually tied race, and Republicans are dumping money on ads casting her as an acolyte of Speaker Nancy Pelosi who won't support the state's oil and gas industry. But. . . Torres Small is also facing a rematch against Yvette Herrell, the woman she beat in 2018 — and Democrats are hammering Herrell over the same ethics issues they litigated two years ago. And Herrell is also leaning heavily on outside help: Torres Small is outspending her opponent by a nearly five-to-one margin on TV ads. 

The latest ad from XTS focuses on her support of fracking and distances her from AOC and other Dems seeking a ban. The strategy being that Republican Yvette Herrell needs a landslide in the oil counties of Eddy, Chavez and Lea to take the win. Cutting her margins there could be key to the re-election of XTS.


We had the latest speculation last week on the Democratic state senators angling for the important position of Senate President Pro Tem that will be named following the November election, but we left out one potential competitor. Former Sec. of Environment Judy Espinoza weighs in on that: 

ABQ Senator Linda Lopez’ name should certainly be on the list. Linda is second in seniority in the Democratic Caucus. I started working with her on environmental justice and sustainable communities when she first arrived in the Senate in 1996. For years she has sponsored legislation against institutional racism, a vital policy issue finally getting the attention it deserves. As Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, she instituted criminal and financial background checks for appointees subject to Senate confirmation. . .In 2019 Linda worked with the Governor to sponsor legislation to repeal our outdated criminal bans on abortion. She was tough and unrelenting despite very hateful attacks. . .Linda is strong in her unpretentious way. 

The President Pro Tem decides committee assignments for state senators and is chosen by the entire Senate. Dems have a majority. As a result of the June primary when several conservative Dem Senators were defeated by liberal challengers, the coalition of Republican Senators who voted with a handful of conservative Dems to appoint a Pro Tem appears destined to dissolve. The new Pro Tem will likely be determined in the Dem caucus and elected on the floor with no coalition with the R's.


Can't the Alligators wait until at least this election is over before splashing around for 2022 action? Nope. One of the restless pond dwellers comes with the news that in the latest state finance reports State Auditor Brian Colón reports $301,000 in cash on hand and his fellow Dem and BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez has $144,000. Both are seen as leading Dem candidates for attorney general in 2022. But there's more. If southern Dem Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small were to lose her seat in November she might join the Dem race for attorney general. Come on Gators, isn't watching Trump enough entertainment for you? Apparently not. 


In a first draft Tuesday we described Santa Fe City Councilor Rene Villarreal as Mayor Alan Webber's chief opponent in the 2021 election. Right now that chief opponent is Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler who is weighing a mayoral run. Villarreal has not yet mentioned any mayoral intentions.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trump Pops Up In Southern Congress Race But Can He Make A Pop There Election Night? Plus: Obelisk Politics, Defending Harry Teague And Latest US Senate Action  

President Trump popped up in that hotly contested southern NM congressional race the other day, doing a brief telephone rally for Republican hopeful Yvette Herrell and reminding one and all how his popularity in the district is key to the outcome. (Complete 6 minute call here).

Donald Trump won the (southern) district by 10 percentage points in 2016. But the ABQ Journal Poll in early September showed Trump with just a 4-point edge in the district this time.

Four points is not going to get the job done and would likely lead to Herrell's second defeat in a row at the hands of Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. But in his often entertaining call to Herrell loyalists Trump was hearing none of it as he spoke from the Oval Office: 

We're going to win the state of New Mexico I'm hearing it from everybody. You're (Yvette) going to win the race and then I am going to win the whole state. I am hearing it from everybody!

Everybody! Fun stuff even if some of the pros are now calling the contest lean Democrat and it appears Herrell is being outspent. 

You have to give the President credit for nailing the pronunciation of the often mispronounced first name of Xochitl. But that just set up his attack lines: 

Xochitl Torres Small is a total puppet for Nancy Pelosi, a radical left puppet. I know personally because she tried to impeach me twice. . . She was saying these wonderful things about me and then she raises her hand all the time, let's impeach him.. I am popular in your district--like record numbers. . . Torres Small wants to open up your borders. She wants to have people pouring into New Mexico, even people during a pandemic. She voted to block my emergency declaration on border security but I got it passed anyway and got the wall built despite tremendous opposition from her. 

Herrell can only hope that Trump's boast of having "record numbers" in the southern CD comes to fruition on Election Night and helps push her into the Congress. But, hey, no problem. "Everybody" knows there won't be a problem. 


And there goes over 150 years of Santa Fe Plaza history in just seconds of irrational anger. A damn shame and it will help set up one of the most divisive and ugly Santa Fe mayor races ever in 2021. Mayor Webber condemned the obelisk destruction but the radical and racially charged politics now emerging in the City Different will challenge everyone. And like ABQ Mayor Keller, whose police force stood down when protesters dismantled an Onate statue near Old Town this summer, Webber's cops apparently did the same. Here's his video reacting to the destruction but he does not address the police going AWOL.  Councilor Villarreal is already blaming him for the police absence. Be certain there is much more to come on all of this. 


Former Dem Lt. Gov Diane Denish lashed out here over former southern Dem US Rep. Harry Teague's endorsing Republican Yvette Herrell over Dem Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.  Reader Mike Davis returns the fire:

Diane, Per your opining of when Teague lost his seat--"He didn't know the district in 2010--you got the snot kicked out of you in 2010 by a no-name district attorney from Dona Ana County after you served as Lieutenant Governor for 8 years, were a former state chair of the Democratic Party and came from a well-known family of wealth and with roots in state politics. Sounds like you might not have been very good at evaluating where, how, and why the Democratic voters in the Land of Enchantment felt about you in 2010.


Giving a helping hand to a veteran in need of surgery is the topic of one of the latest ad offerings from Dem US Senate candidate Ben Ray Lujan, The vet gives a personal tesimtonal about how Lujan helped. 

When the US Senate campaign TV ads started Republican and accomplished TV performer Mark Ronchetti's smooth persona contrasted starkly with the more unpolished presentation of the lawmaker from Nambe. But Lujan has improved greatly during the campaign and that contrast is no longer noticeable. He has grown into this campaign for Senate. At first he seemed to be trying too hard. Confidence may have something to do with it. The northern Congresman leads Ronchetti by ten points in the latest polling.

It's no surprise but it never hurts to get the endorsement of your hometown paper. Lujan secured his when the Santa Fe New Mexican came with this editorial

For his part, Ronchetti continues to come with TV ads as well as "Ronchetti on the Road" videos for social media. The latest one features him with his wife and his two young daughters--who have become staples in his TV ads. The family is shown sledding down the gleaming hills of White Sands near Alamogordo with sand so white it looks like a perfect ski slope. But it will soon be time for Ronchetti to come home to ABQ and stay put. He can only pull off an upset if he trims Lujan's sails in the big city, 

Meanwhile, it was Ronchetti's often controversial political consultant Jay McCleskey getting front page Sunday coverage in the ABQ Journal, not Ronchetti. McCleskey, who headed up Gov. Martinez's political machine, is entangled in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by legislative candidate Scott Chandler. 

Chandler has won hefty lawsuit settlements (nearly $1 million) from the state over actions taken by the Martinez administration against a ranch he ran for troubled youth near Deming. The mailers in question in the defamation suit are about alleged abuses at the ranch that were never proven. Those charges were used by McCleskey in mailers against Chandler when he ran for the legislature in 2016. McCleskey says they are protected by the First Amendment. 

No word on how much in damages Chandler is seeking but apparently the legal wrangling has already been a financial hit for the consultant. McCleskey has filed a lawsuit against his insurance company for refusing to pay his legal fees. The attorney for Chandler is Pete Domenici Jr., son of the late Senator, who we presume is having no trouble collecting his fees.  

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Monday, October 12, 2020

MLG's Test: Pandemic Protests Not Only In Red Counties; Blue BernCo Sees Parents, Students Take To Streets, Plus: Haaland Debates Garcia Holmes  

(Thompson, Journal)
For the first time protests against coronavirus restrictions have emerged in a Democratic bastion--in Bernalillo County--the heart of Governor Lujan Grisham's political base. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was her cancellation of all youth sports, a decision that sent hundreds of students and their parents onto the streets of the city. 

At a first glance you may have thought it was Roswell or Alamogordo, where opposition to virus restrictions has been ongoing since the start of the pandemic. But this was in the state's largest metro and raised political questions about the Governor and the restrictions. One of our Senior Alligators framed it this way: 

Many voters don't see the logic of MLG’s decisions and have trouble connecting the cause and effect behind her decisions. Are kids playing sports running in masks outdoors really the problem? I think this is the tipping point for many parents in their support for the Governor. 

The people making these decisions don’t have kids in school—MLG, Health Secretary Scrase, Education Secretary Stewart as well as most of the Governor's closest staff. They aren’t living this nightmare. Other states are not doing what we are doing. Her approach will contribute to our state’s kids falling even further behind.

That’s shocking considering this Governor and her party claim to care about children and their education. But this is what happens when self-interested boomers put their needs over those of our youngest generation. And, because the Governor has no relationship with school boards or leaders outside Albuquerque and Santa Fe, she is unable to come up with creative, consensus solutions. Instead it’s her calling all the shots and making decisions in the Roundhouse bubble. 

This is where we could see the Democratic gains in Rio Rancho, ABQ's West Side and NE Heights start to erode—not this election, but the next one. All the GOP has to do is talk about rising crime and compare this state’s approach to kids' education to other states and you have an argument against the Dems and MLG.

Making decisions even more difficult for the Fourth Floor is the expected rise in coronavirus cases this fall and winter that are already occuring. That's hard to balance with the lost year the state's youth are enduring and with unknown consequences for their long-term well-being. 

The polling is mixed on the Governor who has been prominently mentioned as a possible cabinet pick should Joe Biden win the presidency next month. 

The PPP poll taken Sept. 30 and Oct.1 is a red flag, showing her disapproval rating at a new high of 42 percent, climbing from 33 percent in the June PPP poll. Her approval rating was 50 percent, down from 52 in June. That seems to indicate that the state's conservative base has now consolidated in opposition to her administration (she won the '18 Guv race 57 to 43 percent).

Interestingly, the PPP poll said voters approve of her handling of the virus at a 58 to 36 percent rate, so if her opposition has grown it seems it isn't solely because of her pandemic performance. 

The ABQ Journal survey taken mostly in late August pegged her disapproval at a still low 33 percent and her approval at a high 59 percent. The difference in the polls may be explained by methodology or by the fact that the political campaigns have heated up in the past month, increasing partisanship and therefore her opposition. 

There is no questioning the blow to morale that the prohibition on youth sports--even golf and volleyball--is having on the students and the Governor's numbers. You can see that in the streets of ABQ. 


Haaland & Garcia Holmes
Why is just about every TV debate for Congress  broadcast on C-SPAN this year done in the studio with social distancing but New Mexicans get stuck with inferior zoom debates that suck the energy out of the room and have the production value of a public access channel? 

Well, having gotten that off our chest, there was another of those hour long remote encounters Sunday afternoon on KOAT-TV. This clash was between ABQ Dem US Rep. Deb Haaland and her Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes. It will be the only debate between the pair. (Full video here.) Zoom is a downer but the questions were solid. Off we go. 
Underdog Garcia Holmes came prepared to prosecute her case. Among her best moments was when she dumped on the entire NM Congressional delegation for the failure to extend badly needed broadband in the state. There is hardly a day that goes by without a DC news release about more funding for broadband but there is still no coordinated plan and during the pandemic it shows. "It's horrific that this is happening in this day and age," Garcia Holmes argued. 

Haaland's best moment were actually moments. She simply could not be shaken or dragged into an emotional confrontation no matter how hard Garcia Holmes attacked. That restraint is how you run when you are the polling leader and it worked. She also was effective in repeatedly scoring the congressional Republicans--and by inference her opponent--for not agreeing to a second coronavirus package that is now stalled.

Garcia Holmes, a former APD detective, scored on Haaland's vote to defund Operation Legend--at least with her political base and maybe more as  progressives appear to be losing the ABQ crime debate. Haaland voted to defund the Operation and Garcia seized upon that repeatedly. Haaland said her defunding vote was based on what was happening at protests in Portland this summer where she said the feds "violated human rights." She said she worried the same could happen in ABQ. 

Trump was occasionally mentioned but was not a dominating presence. Haaland linked Garcia Holmes to him, but mildly. The president's weakness in Bernalillo County is obvious and will help Haaland. 

Garcia Holmes has bought over $100,000 in TV ads while Haaland has bought none yet. She did release a $50,000 digital media buy following the debate. 

With her spirited challenge to Haaland, Garcia Holmes stands to consolidate the GOP vote, peel off some Dem Hispanics and conservative independents and outperform Haaland's 2018 challenger. For her part, Haaland did nothing to shake the pride that New Mexico took in her for climbing the hill to become a Native American member of Congress. Her steady debate performance set the course for her probable re-election. 

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