ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Candidates in New Mexico's open U.S. Senate race outlined clashing visions for the future of health care, climate change and public safety in their last public debate of the campaign, aired on ABC affiliate KOAT in Albuquerque on Wednesday night.
A Latino congressman and mainstay of Democratic politics in northern New Mexico is vying for that Senate seat against a television-savvy Republican challenger with household name recognition as a former television meteorologist based in Albuquerque.
The race between U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of Nambé and first-time candidate Mark Ronchetti is testing the statewide appeal of the six-term congressman who has been endorsed by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.
The political newcomer Ronchetti is running as a “faith, family and freedom” Republican, promising to chart a more conservative political course with endorsements from groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Luján, touted his own multi-generational local connections to the land and family in sounding the alarm against Ronchetti as a supporter of President Donald Trump.
“I grew up here, I’m going to be laid to rest here – New Mexico is in my blood,” Lujan said at Wednesday night's debate.
Ronchetti dismissed Luján as career politician and also criticized toxic politics in Washington.
“Our leaders now fail to hear the people they swore to represent, and sadly my opponent has climbed the ladder in D.C. and left New Mexico behind with nothing to show for it," Ronchetti said during the debate.
There are 35 Senate seats up for election this year, with 23 held by Republicans. Democrats would need to pick up three or four seats to take control.
Republicans hope to regain a footing in New Mexico, but the state hasn't backed a Republican for U.S. Senate since 2002 — Sen. Pete Domenici’s final reelection, and President Trump lost New Mexico in 2016 to Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points.
Joe Biden hasn’t campaigned in New Mexico. Trump last visited the state a year ago for a rally in suburban Rio Rancho. Trump was planning another rally in the state before his announcement that he tested positive for the coronavirus.