On Friday, October 12th, New Mexico had a unique Senate debate. The debate strayed from tradition, presenting candidates from three parties instead of only two. The debate blurred the tribal lines between Republican and Democrat, “left versus right” and challenged the normal talking points often seen or heard on conventional broadcast media. This gave New Mexican voters a novel opportunity to hear new perspectives.
The debate featured Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich, Republican candidate Mick Rich, and Libertarian nominee former Governor Gary Johnson. Senator Heinrich moved to protect his seat from challengers Rich and Johnson from a defensive position. Each candidate went into the debate with specific issues and solutions in mind. Gov. Johnson focused on the federal deficit. He promised to present a balanced budget, remarking that “it is incredibly unfair to all of us to continue to roll up unpaid debt.” Sen. Heinrich called for “an economy that works for all of us, not just a few.” Rich emphasized his affiliation with the construction industry and his amorous passion for New Mexico.
The debate remained principled, with little attacks thrown by any of the candidates. Gov. Johnson presented zealous arguments while Sen. Heinrich and Rich stuck to calm talking points from their respective parties. Rich labelled Heinrich as another “Washington politician,” while Gov. Johnson pointed out Heinrich’s absence from several public forums. Sen. Heinrich fired back, criticizing Rich’s construction company’s record with a state contract and Gov. Johnson’s history of vetoing legislation.
Rich called for better border security, supporting President Trump’s immigration policy. This differed from both Gov. Johnson and Sen. Heinrich. Johnson established his love for legal immigrants and a desire to make the path to obtain a work visa easier. He shared some of Sen. Heinrich’s other critiques of President Trump’s policy. Rich falsely accused his opponents of supporting open borders, which prompted Gov. Johnson to respond, “I am not talking about reducing border security. I am saying do not build a wall across the border. If that is your definition of open borders, I am guilty.”
Sen. Heinrich declared his support of the Affordable Care Act, claiming that it worked well in reducing costs and providing coverage to more New Mexicans. Rich and Gov. Johnson disagreed, critiquing the failures of the policy. Rich called to allow purchase of insurance across state lines while Gov. Johnson praised a free market solution. This contributed to an overarching theme of Heinrich’s support for more government programs, Rich’s call for a reversal of policies like the ACA, and Gov. Johnson’s advocacy for total free market solutions.
In terms of President Trump, Gov. Johnson reinforced his independent status, claiming he would be the “swing vote” in the Senate. He said he would have voted for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, declaring that Kavanaugh acted as a fair and constitutional judge. Gov. Johnson focused on the presumption of innocence and lack of proof regarding Kavanaugh’s controversy. This differed from Rich’s loyalty to the President, taking the Kavanaugh issue further and stating, “I support President Trump’s judicial nominees.” Finally, Sen. Heinrich defended his stance against Kavanaugh and stuck to the talking points against the President’s judicial prerogatives.
Each candidate presented arguments that remained true to the ethos of their respective campaigns. Sen. Heinrich spoke like a Democrat, Rich like a Republican, and Gov. Johnson like an independent. Rich underperformed, sticking to stories instead of answers and repeating some tired version of “I care about New Mexico” several times throughout the debate. Sen. Heinrich underperformed and ultimately spoke like a polished politician. Gary Johnson stood out, remaining to the point and passionate about his positions and direction of our state and country. New Mexico’s first U.S. Senate debate was successful in presenting New Mexico with a forum where all candidates were given the opportunity to present their viewpoints, although it’s unfortunate Heinrich hasn’t committed to more. New Mexico voters and the nation are upon this unique, unconventional political race.