GOP eyes Albuquerque congressional seat held by Haaland

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A cadre of 130 New Mexico state Republican Party leaders is deciding on a nominee to run for the Albuquerque-based congressional seat held by Deb Haaland before she was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Members of the Republican Party central committee who live in the 1st Congressional District were scheduled to vote on a nominee Saturday in a videoconference meeting.

At least seven candidates have sought the nomination. Prominent candidates include conservative radio talk show host Eddy Aragon and three-term state Sen. Mark Moores, a former football lineman at the University of New Mexico.

Democrats have held the 1st District seat for since 2009. But Republicans see an opening in a potentially low-turnout special election set for June 1.

The district has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Contenders for the Republican nomination are highlighting frustration with the state’s progressive political shift on entitlement spending and social issues, vowing to help withhold federal funding for abortion and condemning the Legislature’s move to legalize medical aid in dying and overturn the state’s dormant ban on most abortion procedures.

Aragon, an admirer of Rush Limbaugh, has cast himself as a political outsider with hardline positions against public unions and enduring support for former President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall project.

At a forum this week, Aragon condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and vowed to “remove terrorist groups like Red Nation” – an advocacy organization for Indigenous rights that has sought the removal of monuments to early Spanish colonial leaders and related public historical pageants.

“They’re literally passing themselves off as the American way,” Aragon said. “My dad would kick my butt.”

Moores has positioned himself as a seasoned campaigner and fundraiser, with a conservative voting record at the Statehouse in Santa Fe on issues of gun rights and natural resources.

He backed a Republican bill to legalize recreational cannabis in 2019 – he says to keep Democratic legislation at bay – and acknowledged accepting campaign donations from the marijuana industry.

Other Republican candidates include attorney and Clovis native Jared Vander Dussen and Michaela Chavez, a bookkeeper who unsuccessfully ran last year for state Senate.

Democrats will pick a nominee through a confidential central committee balloting process that will start Tuesday and could extend for days until one candidate wins greater than 50% of votes.

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