The race for US Senate in New Mexico this year is an odd sort of Venn diagram among three men who share some traits, but are remarkably different when it comes to their political views.
Democrat Martin Heinrich and Libertarian Gary Johnson love the outdoors.
Johnson and Republican Mick Rich have both run construction companies.
Rich and Heinrich both graduated college with engineering degrees.
Early voting starts Oct. 9, though there are two debates on the calendar for October that might be helpful in guiding voters.
This is the Catron Senate seat, so-named for Thomas Catron, who first held it after statehood. Notable occupants include Democrats Jeff Bingaman and Dennis Chavez, as well as Republicans Jack Schmitt and Edwin Mechem, who appointed himself to the position (when Chavez died in office) in November 1962 after losing a reelection bid for governor just weeks earlier.
An engineer by training, Martin Heinrich has been involved in public policy and held public office for most of his career. He's been out front on efforts to create and expand public land in New Mexico, as well as with tech transfer from public institutions like Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs and the state's universities to private businesses. He's a big supporter of renewable energy.
Challenger Rich has criticized Senator Heinrich for his focus.
"I think he's deeply out of touch," the senator rebuts. "One, I'm focused on jobs, but part of that is the jobs engine that our [federally protected lands] are. Every one of these special designations … has resulted in additional jobs, additional visitation, additional tax revenue."
Heinrich was dead-set against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh even before a second accuser came forward. He sees the seat as critical for decades to come.
"I think it's really important to realize that there are a million reasons why a 15-year-old girl—not just then, but now—would choose not to bring charges forward. And to be so dismissive of that is what's wrong in our culture," he says.
While Heinrich has been in Washington, DC, for a decade and wants another six years there, he says he hasn't adapted.
"It's just not the natural place I would gravitate to, but I love what I can do for New Mexico there," he tells SFR an hour after arriving in Albuquerque. "I will always come home to feed my soul. When I get off the plane in New Mexico, my blood pressure drops 15 points. I will always treasure the time I get to come here and recharge the things that make me, me."
The Dark Horse
Gary Johnson knows the polls can't be right if he's going to win the race, which he says he can.
"In the four weeks I've been out there, three people have told me that they're not going to vote for me, compared to the thousands who have said they will," Johnson tells SFR from the car on his way to Chama. "Still, there are a lot of people don't know that I'm in the race."
He's only been in it since the middle of August, taking over the Libertarian slot abandoned by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.
For the former two-term governor (he was a Republican then) and two-time Libertarian presidential candidate, the biggest issue facing the country is its $21.5-trillion national debt, which he sees as a huge threat to US financial stability and independence.
"When the inflation aspect of this kicks in, it's going to be horrible. Of course it hasn't happened to this point, but it will. We're not immune to this equation," he warns. "If borrowing money and printing money were the key to success, Zimbabwe would the center of the world and Venezuela would be a close second."
If things fall Johnson's way, he would be a key vote in the Senate and perhaps even the swing vote. He sees not being aligned with a Republican or Democratic vote as being advantageous to New Mexico.
He promises to develop his own balanced budget and submit it to the Senate so the body could see what that looks like and how hard the cuts would be.
On Kavanaugh, he's no longer "thumbs up" as he was last week and wants to hear testimony before deciding whether or not he'd support the nominee.
Mick Rich is an affable guy with a surprisingly deep voice. Like Heinrich, he graduated with an engineering degree. He's owned his own construction company since the early 1980s. Married, with three daughters and a son, Rich calls Albuquerque home.
"I have worked for 40 years to try to make the state a better place," he tells SFR, citing his work to develop apprenticeship programs in the construction trades, to support the creation of a charter high school (it's now defunct) and to renovate San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church in Albuquerque and Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz.
He wants a more well-rounded economy for the state, noting current employment numbers are skewed by the booming oil fields in southeastern New Mexico.
Rich is critical of Johnson's entry into the race as self-serving. Adding Johnson's numbers (16 percent) to his own 26 percent would put him within striking distance of Heinrich, who sat at 47 percent in the most recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal.
Rich says Heinrich's focus on national monuments and open space is shortsighted.
"I'm not saying neither one is important. But people are not moving to Texas because they have more monuments and wilderness. It's because they have more good-paying jobs," he jabs.
Brett Kavanaugh's nomination would get a yes vote from Rich.
"His judicial record is a stellar one. And I think it's important that the cases that come before the Supreme Court should be viewed on how they tie to existing law and the Constitution. And I believe the Constitution needs to be interpreted as written. … Amendments are not up to the Supreme Court," Rich says. "I'm in agreement with [Kavanaugh's] record and what he stands for."
Watch the debates:
Friday Oct. 12, KOAT-TV (channel 7)
Friday Oct. 26, KRQE-TV (channel 13)