SANTA FE, N.M. -- Candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico are parrying a barrage of political attack ads with the first televised debate of the campaign scheduled for Monday evening.
Retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Udall has endorsed as his successor allied six-term U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, while Republican former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti is promising to chart a more conservative political course on issues from health care to economic recovery.
Absentee balloting begins Tuesday across the state that currently has an all-Democratic delegation to Washington, D.C. New Mexico hasn't backed a Republican for Senate since 2002, and Trump lost New Mexico in 2016 to Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points.
Scientist and Libertarian Party candidate Bob Walsh also was expected to join the debate in his no-frills bid for Senate without a federally registered finance committee.
Luján and Ronchetti accuse each other of lying and distortions in dueling political ads.
Ronchetti is defending his standing as a scientifically minded Republican and trained meteorologist, as Luján draws attention to Republican President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
At the same time, Luján is defending his approach to public safety and crime in New Mexico, as Ronchetti warns of efforts by liberal politicians to defund police agencies.
The death of liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has cast new attention on the power of the GOP Senate majority to guide confirmation of new justices and finalize other lifetime federal judicial appointments.
New Mexico’s current Democratic senators have placed the judicial confirmations for two U.S. District Court vacancies on hold until after the Nov. 3 election. They say the president has politicized the process, so they’ll wait until the voters have spoken.
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.