U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján said Friday he will participate in a Senate debate hosted by KOB-TV and the Santa Fe New Mexican if Congress finishes its session in time.

The congressman had previously said he would not take part in the Oct. 5 debate, noting he had already confirmed for two other debates — one sponsored by KOAT-TV and another on New Mexico PBS.

He said Friday he likely would need to stay in Washington into October to work on legislative efforts such as passing a new coronavirus relief package, which was why he had decided “an early October debate would detract from his work on behalf of New Mexicans.”

But he tentatively agreed to be at the KOB debate.

“That being said, if the congressional schedule wraps up by Oct. 5 and responsibilities shift to allow Ben Ray to attend the KOB/SF New Mexican debate, he will be there,” Luján’s campaign manager Travis Brimm wrote in an email.

Luján, a Northern New Mexico Democrat, is running against Republican Mark Ronchetti and Libertarian Bob Walsh for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.

Michelle Donaldson, KOB-TV’s vice president and general manager, said she was happy with Luján’s decision.

“I’m very pleased to have all three candidates participating,” she said. “I think this serves the public very well.”

Ronchetti’s campaign had criticized Luján for declining to take part in the debate, sending out regular emails titled “Ben Ray Lujan Debate Watch.”

On Friday, Luján tweeted a Politico article about Congress’ stalled efforts to pass a new coronavirus aid bill, and added the congressional schedule was “in flux” but he would be at the KOB debate if he could.

“With Congress voting on critical COVID relief, my top priority is doing my job — securing the aid NM needs,” he wrote.

An Albuquerque Journal poll found 49 percent of voters said they would vote for Luján while 40 percent said they would vote for Ronchetti.

A separate KOB/New Mexican debate on Oct. 8 will feature Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez, the Democratic nominee in the 3rd Congressional District, and Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson.


Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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