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The race for New Mexico’s open 1st district has gone nuclear.
The two leading candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary launched blistering ads against each other in the past two days, a final negative turn in a three-way race that always had the potential to get ugly.
It’s been a true horse race so far, with the three candidates — state Sen. Eric Griego, Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez — moving ahead or falling behind over the past few months. The winner will be heavily favored to hold the Albuquerque-based seat of Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), who is running for Senate.
Chavez began the race with the highest name recognition and as the favorite, but all public and private polling in the past week has found Griego and Lujan Grisham neck-and-neck for the lead. That’s led the two to attack each other over the airwaves, both targeting the others’ records on one issue or another.
Griego and Lujan Grisham released polls last week that found them both in the low 30s, with Chavez polling in the 20s. An independent poll conducted for the Albuquerque Journal and released Sunday found Griego and Lujan Grisham tied at 33 percent, with Chavez at 20 percent and 14 percent undecided.
“The two frontrunners were in a virtual tie in our recent poll. Now they are barraging each other with attack ads,” said Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the newspaper poll. “It will be interesting to see whether this helps Marty Chavez, who lagged behind the frontrunners in the poll. This race is too close to call.”
Progressive Kick, a super PAC supporting Griego, set the ad war in motion by hitting Lujan Grisham for her record overseeing a state-run nursing home as state secretary of Health. The Lujan Grisham campaign called the attack “false” and responded with a hit of its own against Griego.
Lujan Grisham ran with a story that broke last week detailing 11 arrest warrants issued against Griego for various traffic violations. The ad got New Mexico political circles buzzing about whether that was the right move for a candidate tied for the lead.
“These three-way races, it’s not an automatic that you can nuke, because you have the third candidate in play,” said Joe Monahan, a New Mexico political analyst and blogger. “Once nuclear missiles are fired, you have the retaliatory launch.”
Griego fired back at Lujan Grisham on Wednesday with a TV ad that featured themes similar to the super PAC ad.