Marco Serna, the clean-cut district attorney for New Mexico's First Judicial District, eschewed the usual blue jeans and button-down campaign trail garb when he toured Congressional District 3 last weekend, opting instead for a three-piece suit. Serna is a slick campaigner and public speaker with local cred—his mother owns a jewelry store in Española—and, more memorably, his father, Eric Serna, was a longtime New Mexico political fixture who retired amid an investigation of wrongdoing. The younger Serna has taken the "everyone should just get along" tack in a time of increasingly polarized politics, decrying the lack of decorum in Washington.
He says he wishes we could all deliberate in a civil manner, and he thinks Donald Trump is unfit for office and should be impeached.
But is there substance under his style?
SFR followed Serna on the trail on Saturday, making stops in Mora, Raton and Taos, and all along the way, the 36-year-old says he found there were three key issues among Democrats in the district: the opioid crisis, small business development and bouncing Trump out of office.
Mostly though, the first-term DA talks about talking.
"It's good to have these discussions, even if we disagree," Serna tells SFR in Taos. "You know, we can disagree, but let's at least have a meaningful discussion. I think that's a huge problem in Washington. There's no meaningful discussion. It's just party versus party."
Although when it comes to the president, Serna sees a man with whom no dialogue can be had.
"With regards to President Trump, it's clear he wants no productive discussion," he says, adding that the Mueller report shows that the president is a corrupt actor. Serna's role as district attorney for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, he says, is to enforce accountability. He says he would continue to uphold that priority in Congress if he won the seat, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican was under the microscope.
But when asked about the issues that mattered to them, people in the rural areas didn't bring up "meaningful discussion" to SFR. Bengie Regensberg, chair of the Mora County Democratic Party, was eating breakfast at the Main Street Grill in Mora when SFR arrived. When asked if Marco Serna had arrived yet, Regensberg, a middle-aged man sporting a goatee and camo hat, replied, "Who's Marco Serna?"
The candidate came in soon after and introduced himself to Regensberg. They discussed some of the issues that were important to Mora County voters. Grazing rights and federal funding for ranchers were foremost in Regensberg's mind, but he also says even most Democratic voters there are broadly opposed to abortion and gun control—issues he predicted would be a problem for Serna, but not unique to him.
Ultimately though, Regensberg was impressed, saying Serna was "definitely a top candidate."
"He looks like he has energy," Regensberg says.
In Raton, at the Enchanted Grounds coffee shop, there was more enthusiasm for the candidate's visit—all of it from five older members of the local Democratic Party who all knew each other, and from Mark McDonald, a former candidate for the same seat who has since dropped out and endorsed Serna.
Serna, who won a three-way primary and then fought off a Republican in the general election to get his prosecutor job in 2016, says he's the candidate who has held elected office the longest among a dense field of Democratic congressional hopefuls lining up for the 2020 primary.
Serna says that separates him from the others running for Rep. Ben Ray Luján's seat, which he is vacating to run for US Senate—although Serna beats out Joseph Sanchez, a freshman state legislator from Alcalde, for time in office by only two years.
Other contenders include Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Santa Fe social justice attorney and member of President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; and Valerie Plame, a former CIA spy who was thrust into national headlines after the George W Bush administration blew her cover, and who also lives in the Santa Fe area.
Two longtime Colfax County Democrats, Nancy Passikoff and Peg Albert, say behavioral health, including addiction services, is their top issue.
"I don't want to hear about suicide and why it's here," Passikoff says. "We need staff! We don't need another study."
The women say they were intrigued by Serna, but weren't sure where their votes were going yet; they're waiting to see how the campaign plays out before making a decision.
Serna often returns to an issue that was central to his campaign for district attorney: the opioid crisis. He insists it's a problem that he has been working to solve as DA, and that he could do even more in Congress.
"Treat [addicts] like human beings," Serna says. "Stop treating addiction like it's a crime. … Especially in rural communities, we don't have the people, nor do we have enough services to deal with the problem. In part I blame that on the previous administration. Susana Martinez decimated these programs. … We really need to focus on bringing that back in rural New Mexico—and in Santa Fe and in Albuquerque, for that matter."
The Democratic primary race still has a long way to go. Democrats in New Mexico will cast their votes in a closed primary on June 2, 2020. Over the weekend, Serna promised rural New Mexicans that he would be back to speak with them again before then.