Democrat Ben Ray Luján stayed in the center Sunday night as Mark Ronchetti, his Republican opponent for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat, claimed the congressman supports popular left-wing policies such as the Green New Deal.
As the candidates argued over the future of American health care during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in a debate aired by the New Mexico Public Broadcasting Service, Ronchetti said he supported repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act while claiming Luján supports Medicare for All, a universal health care proposal.
Sixty-nine percent of registered voters and 46 percent of Republicans support Medicare for All, according to a poll by the Hill and research company HarrisX from last spring. During the pandemic, roughly 12 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Luján did not engage with Ronchetti’s claim he supports Medicare for All. Instead he spoke of his support for maintaining the Affordable Care Act.
“New Mexico had the highest uninsured rate in America prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” Luján said. “The facts are the Republican repeal plan will increase premiums and not have protections for preexisting conditions.”
In June 2019, Luján joined 112 Democratic representatives as a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All Act.
Either Luján, Ronchetti or Libertarian Bob Walsh will succeed Tom Udall, who is retiring from the Senate.
In 2014, Udall won a two-candidate race for the seat with 55.6 percent of the vote against Republican Allen Weh. Starting in 2012, Luján has won each of his general election races in the 3rd Congressional District with at least 60 percent of the vote.
Ronchetti also brought up Luján’s support of the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution that lays out a plan to tackle climate change guided by reports from the United Nations and federal scientists who warned the world is headed for more intense heat waves, wildfires and droughts. The resolution calls for the world to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A recent poll by Yale and George Mason Universities and several media outlets found the resolution is supported by more than 80 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans.
Luján expressed support for returning to the Paris Climate Accord of 2016.
“Both under President Barack Obama and President [Donald] Trump, their Department of Defense said that the climate crisis is an existential threat to our national security and will cause harm to soldiers,” Luján said. “The United States needs to take a serious step forward in, one, coming back under the Paris Climate Accord and moving legislation that is going to reduce emissions and pollution.”
Later in the debate during a discussion on social justice, Ronchetti, a meteorologist who appeared in the studio alongside New Mexico In Focus host Gene Grant while Luján and Walsh appeared over videoconference, said he doesn’t believe America is systematically racist.
“This is not a systematically racist country. I don’t believe that. Is there racism? Yes, there is and it needs to be addressed,” Ronchetti said. “I think it can be addressed through better education and safer streets.”
In response to the pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that an economic stimulus deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin must be struck by Tuesday in order for legislation to be passed by Election Day. During Sunday’s debate, Ronchetti criticized Luján’s role in failing to deliver a second COVID-19 relief bill.
“We need another bill to come out of Congress and start to help the people of this state. The congressman has a real role here and can really help get this done,” Ronchetti said. “Stop the finger-pointing. We’ve got to get some aid to the people who badly need it.”
Luján agreed on the need for a second relief bill while laying the blame on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Look, there needs to be another round of relief for the American people, direct payments of $1,200, small payment like loans and grants that are going to help our businesses,” Luján said. “Mitch McConnell said this week he’s not going to do this. Mitch McConnell has been absent on the negotiations.”