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Challenger makes age an issue in primary race

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By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

In bidding for a political comeback in northern New Mexico, former Democratic legislator Bengie Regensberg is delivering a blunt campaign message in the primary election.

Regensberg has told voters in personal appearances and advertising that Democratic state Rep. Nick Salazar of Ohkay Owingeh is too old for another term in the Legislature.

The 85-year-old Salazar, the state’s longest serving lawmaker, is finishing his 42nd year in the House. He’s one of seven incumbents facing primary election challenges.

“Anything has an expiration date. I think that he has overextended his,” Regensberg, a Mora County contractor, said in an interview. “There is nothing wrong with somebody being old, but when you’re not effective any more in what you are doing it’s time to get replaced.”

A Regensberg radio ad described Salazar as almost 90 years old and suggested the incumbent might be unable to continue in office because of declining health.

Salazar shrugs off the attack by his 46-year-old opponent.

“I still have all my teeth, including my four wisdom teeth, and my eyesight is 20-20,” Salazar said in interview. “My blood pressure is 120 over 60. My heartbeat is only about 72. So I don’t know how I could be on my death bed.”

Salazar also said he runs and walks 2 miles each day.

Salazar is among five legislators over age 80. Democratic Sen. John Pinto, the oldest at 89, won re-election in 2012.

Salazar’s heavily Democratic district stretches across parts of Colfax, Mora, Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties. The primary winner faces Republican James Gallegos in the general election.

Regensberg, who served in the House in 2001-2004 representing a different legislative district, and another Democrat lost to Salazar two years ago. But Regensberg said he stands a better chance this year because he and the other challenger in 2012 split the vote in the eastern part of the district where both lived.

Salazar, who resides in the Espanola area on the district’s western side, contends that Regensberg’s attacks on his age could backfire, especially among older voters.

New Mexicans 50 and older accounted for about three-fourths of voters statewide in the last primary election, according to Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster.

All 70 House seats are up for election, but 25 incumbents are unopposed. There are 18 contested primary races.