ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A pair of Republicans are headed for a showdown in next week’s primary seeking the opportunity to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a popular incumbent making his first bid at re-election.
Allen Weh, a 71-year-old retired Marine colonel and wealthy aerospace entrepreneur from Albuquerque, is a veteran of New Mexico politics. A former New Mexico Republican Party Chairman, Weh also made a run for governor four years ago, coming in second behind Gov. Susana Martinez in a five-way primary.
Running against him in Tuesday’s primary is 34-year-David Clements of Las Cruces, an attorney and former Dona Ana County GOP chairman making his first run at elected office on a shoestring budget, building grassroots support as he travels the state in a well-used Isuzu truck.
Weh says he is running “because Washington is broken.”
“I think where I am in life, instead of kicking back, I felt like I could make a difference,” he said in a recent interview. “One man can’t solve all the nation’s problems, but a person who is really committed to making a difference can effect some positive change.”
Clements, who has taken a leave from law to travel the state drumming up support, said he decided to run because “my wife and I, like a lot of people, are jaded. We feel like there is no representation at the federal level.”
Both Clements and Weh cite federal spending and the Affordable Care Act as key issues, although they differ on health care. Clements wants a full repeal. Weh says he would be open to tweaking the new law, saying the nation’s health care system has been a mess for years.
Clements has substituted shoe leather for cash, and garnered enough grassroots support to make a surprisingly strong showing at the state GOP’s pre-primary convention in April, where he won 47 percent of the ballots.
Whoever wins the primary, however, has a tough uphill battle. A recent computer model of races conducted for The New York Times says Udall is one of 14 Senate incumbents with a 99 percent chance of retaining their seats.
But University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez agrees the candidates have little chance of unseating Udall, a popular former congressman with $3 million cash on hand, even if popular Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wins a big victory in her re-election bid as many expect and that attracts more GOP-leaning voters to the polls.
“First, New Mexicans have shown consistently that their voting behavior differs in federal and state level races, with many instances where the majority of voters supported a GOP presidential candidate but a Democratic governor or other state wide candidate - and vice versa,” Sanchez said.
In other primary races, two political newcomers are vying for the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. Richard Priem, a 64-year-old businessman and retired Army veteran from Albuquerque, is running against 66-year-old Mike Frese, a scientist and small business owner from Corrales.