Lujan wins Democratic nomination, East gets GOP nod, in 3rd District

By DEBORAH BAKER

ALBUQUERQUE — Public Regulation Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan won the Democratic nomination for a northern New Mexico congressional seat, while Rio Rancho contractor Dan East got the Republican nod.

They will face each other in the November general election for the seat now held by Democratic Rep. Tom Udall.

It’s expected to be a three-way contest; independent Carol Miller planned to file on Wednesday.

Lujan, son of the powerful speaker of the state House of Representatives, defeated Santa Fe developer Don Wiviott, who had poured more than $1.34 million of his own money into the race.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Lujan had nearly 42 percent of the vote to Wiviott’s 26 percent, according to unofficial returns. Four other Democratic hopefuls trailed.

East, a utilities contractor, defeated Santa Fe lawyer Marco Gonzales with 53 percent of the vote. Gonzales had the backing of longtime U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici.

Newcomer Wiviott fueled his campaign largely with his own funds, outspending Lujan by more than three-to-one as of mid-May in his first run for public office.

Lujan countered with a string of endorsements from influential environmental and labor organizations, elected officials, and an elder statesman with a magic name — former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, father of the sitting congressman.

Trailing Lujan and Wiviott were former Indian Affairs Secretary Benny Shendo Jr., Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya, former Assistant Attorney General Jon Adams and Dixon lawyer Rudy Martin.

The district is large — roughly the northern half of the state — and diverse, including liberal Santa Fe and the heavily Hispanic region to the north of it, the northwest oil-and-gas center of Farmington, conservative east-side farming and ranching communities, and predominantly Indian areas, with voters from 16 tribes.

Lujan had the advantage of being elected from a northern PRC district, but it’s his first public office and he’s only in his first term. His bigger boost came from his well-connected father, Ben Lujan, who is one of the most powerful people in the Capitol. And he got a last-minute endorsement from Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who represented the 3rd District for nearly 15 years.

Lujan and Wiviott took shots at each other in their advertising. Wiviott painted Lujan as an inexperienced former casino worker who was riding his father’s coattails and who had skipped meetings of a health care commission to which he was appointed. Lujan assailed Wiviott’s business practices as a “multimillionaire developer.”

Udall is leaving his safe House seat to run for Domenici’s Senate seat. He was unopposed on Tuesday for the Democratic nomination.