ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — One of the candidates was living with a woman accused of trying to bilk $3.2 million from a Santa Fe hospital. Another had 11 arrest warrants issued against him in recent years for traffic tickets. A third has a history of falling behind on her property taxes.
A tight three-way race is bringing out some of the worst about candidates for the June 5th Democratic primary in a race for Albuquerque's 1st Congressional District. Former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez, State Sen. Eric Griego, and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham are the candidates for what is expected to be one of the closest races of the primary.
The nominee will face former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones for the second shot in four years at an open seat in Albuquerque's 1st Congressional District.
They are all seeking to replace Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich, who wrenched the traditionally moderate Republican seat from its long-time GOP hold in 2008 when Heather Wilson gave it up to make a losing run for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici's seat. Now, Heinrich is giving it up in hopes of winning the Democratic nomination to face expected GOP winner Wilson in the run for retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman's seat.
A poll published Sunday by the Albuquerque Journal showed Griego and Lujan Grisham, who have positioned themselves as progressives, running even with 33 percent of the vote each to 20 percent for Chavez, considered a moderate candidate, in the primary race for the 1st Congressional District Democratic nomination. Fourteen percent of the voters said they were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent.
And as with any tight race, the mud has been flying.
Griego has raised the most money and been the most aggressive. His campaign worked earlier this year to publicize the fact that Loretta Mares, who has been accused of fraudulent billing on contracts with St. Vincent Hospital, was Chavez's girlfriend. Chavez's campaign said they no longer live together.
"This has nothing to do with Marty (Chavez) or his campaign. This occurred before their relationship began," Alan Packman, a campaign spokesman for Chavez, said in an email statement to The Associated Press. "They are no longer living together and there will be nothing further about the relationship."
Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham blamed a PAC supporting Griego for an attack on her hiring and firing record as state secretary of health. Over the weekend, the Journal reported Grisham was late in paying her property taxes seven of the last 10 years.
"Michelle recognizes that as a public official, she should be held to the highest standards," Lujan Grisham campaign spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement to the Albuquerque Journal. "She has taken responsibility for her taxes, paid the full amount and paid penalties ranging between $11 and $56 for late payments, just as any other taxpayer would be expected to do."
Griego himself also fell under the lens last week when the Albuquerque Journal reported that Bernalillo County had issued 11 arrest warrants against him between 2000 and 2007 after the Democratic state senator failed to appear at scheduled court hearings or missed court-ordered driver school programs for things like speeding.
Griego campaign manager Ed Yoon told the Albuquerque Journal that Griego "missed a couple court appearances." But Griego addressed the violations, paid the fines and regrets the warrants, Yoon said.
"In the past, Eric Griego did get some speeding tickets. He takes full responsibility for them. (He) paid his fine. Period." Yoon said.
Heading into the final days of the campaign, Brian Sanderoff, whose Research & Polling Inc. conducted the Journal Poll, says women are twice as likely to be undecided as men, so the campaigns should focus on issues that resonate with woman
"Since voter turnout will be low, the campaign organization that is most successful in identifying and getting their supporters out to vote will greatly enhance their chances to win," he said.
Griego's campaign said it was poised to buy more television spots.
The latest campaign finance reports show he's collected about $139,000 and spent nearly $374,000 during the past six weeks. Lujan Grisham raised about $100,000 and spent $322,000 from April 1 through May 16. Chavez received contributions of almost $106,000 and spent nearly $156,000.
Federal Election Commission disclosure reports show Griego has raised $847,000 since entering the race. Chavez has collected almost $645,000 and Lujan Grisham has netted contributions of $597,000.
In other congressional races, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the Democrat who represents northern New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, is running unopposed. He will face the winner of the Republican primary between Frederick Newton and Jefferson Byrd.
In southern New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is also unopposed. He will face Democratic challenger Evelyn Madrid Earhard in November.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.