ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Elisa Martinez, a Latina Republican and member of the Navajo Nation, announced Wednesday she is joining the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico, potentially upending a contest Democrats had considered safe.
Speaking to supporters at an Albuquerque hotel, Martinez said she would seek the GOP nomination to take on likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and hoped to "make history" by becoming the first Native American woman in the U.S. Senate.
"That is ... the first 'real' Native American woman (in the Senate)," Martinez said in an apparent jab at Democratic presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren has faced criticism for claiming Native American ancestry.
The anti-abortion activist said she decided to get into the race at the urging of supporters and after concluding that current elected leaders weren't upholding "traditional New Mexican values."
Martinez, the founder of the group New Mexico Alliance for Life, said she was committed to fighting "liberal socialist Democrats" who want to expand federal government funding into health care. She also alleged that Democrats supported "abortions up to birth" — a reference the state's lack of restrictions around third-trimester abortions.
Earlier this year, some Democrats in the state Senate helped defeat a bill that would have protected abortion rights in the event the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision was overturned.
A dormant, unenforced state statute bans most abortion procedures. A medical clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that performs abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico declined to comment.
Martinez, who turns 46 on Thursday, will face contractor Mick Rich and college professor Gavin Clarkson in the Republican primary. Clarkson is a member of the Choctaw Nation.
The Gallup, New Mexico-raised Martinez said her background made her a suitable candidate to represent a state with the largest percentage of Hispanic residents and with one of the largest percentages of Native Americans.
Martinez said her father has deep Hispanic roots in the state going back 15 generations, and her mother's family is Zuni Pueblo and Navajo.
"I know I don't fit the mold of a Republican," Martinez said, without mentioning President Donald Trump in her speech. "But I am a working-class Republican."
After her announcement, Martinez told reporters she was not offended by Trump's use of the racial slur "Pocahontas" to describe Warren.
"I'm more offended by Elizabeth Warren saying she's Native American," Martinez said.
In August, Warren apologized at a Native American forum for the "harm" she caused with her past claims of Native American ancestry.
Brad Elkins, Luján's campaign manager, avoided in a statement directly addressing Martinez's announcement.
"Congressman Luján has a strong record of serving New Mexican families and is confident that voters share his values and his vision for our communities," Elkins said.
Luján has no Democratic primary opponent.
Martinez is one of four Native American women running for federal office in New Mexico next year.
U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, is seeking re-election for her seat that represents Albuquerque. Republican former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces.
Navajo Nation businesswoman Karen Bedonie is seeking the Republican nomination for an open U.S. House seat in northern New Mexico currently held by Luján.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press' race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/russcontreras