When Senator Ben Ray Luján got out of bed at 6:15 a.m. on January 27, the world turned.

“As soon as I got up, it felt like dizziness,” he recalled in an interview in his Senate office, one of the few the New Mexico Democrat has given since he suffered a stroke that could have killed him. The stakes reached far beyond him: News had just come out that President Biden would receive a Supreme Court nomination, and Democrats in the closely divided Senate would desperately need his vote to affirm a new liberal justice.

At that moment he knew something was wrong with his body, but not what. He lay back down and closed his eyes for another half hour or so, then tried to get up again. Spin more.

He called his chief of staff, Carlos Sanchez, who urged him to inform his doctor immediately.

“You have to go to the emergency room,” the doctor said.

At that point, Luján said, “I really couldn’t walk.”

He remembers “crawling around” on the floor, the dizziness was so bad. His sister Jackie, who lives nearby, soon came to help.

“I need your strength,” he told her. She grabbed a broomstick for support, helped him down the stairs in front of his house and helped him to the hospital 30 minutes away in Santa Fe.

Soon he was on his way to a larger medical facility in Albuquerque.

“You could see the fear in her eyes,” said Luján. “I still remember that.”

It’s a moment I can recognize.

Two days before Election Day in 2020, I suffered a thalamic ischemic stroke that left me temporarily unable to walk. I was in the hospital for two weeks.

I well remember my family dropping me off at the emergency room, holding my wife’s hand while she touched the left side of my face. It was numb and tingly, and I wasn’t sure if I would live or die, let alone feel normal again.

Luján’s stroke was a similar shock. At 49, he is one of the younger members of the Senate. “This came out of the blue,” he said. “I had no early warning signs. I was quite physically active.”

It was a reminder, he said, that “each of us goes through challenges. We all have nightmares. Something bad can happen in our lives.”

Like me, Luján didn’t make it to the hospital in time to remove the blood clot. May is National Stroke Awareness Month and he wants others to know the warning signs.

In the center of the back of his skull, Luján still bears the scar from the surgery that relieved pressure on his cerebellum, the part of the brain that affects balance and posture. After several days of close observation, doctors decided to remove a part of his skull the size of a silver dollar.

The surgeons described the procedure in a video Luján released on February 13just over two weeks after the stroke.

While he still has some tingling in his right hand, the scar is the only visible sign of what happened. His speech is fast and completely fluent.

“I feel like I’ve come back stronger,” he said, joking that the stroke had lost a few pounds. “I fit better in my clothes.”

With Democrats having the least control over the Senate, the stroke threatened to do more than turn Luján’s life upside down. If he couldn’t return, the party may have had to postpone a vote on President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, risking her confirmation.

“I have to get out of here,” Luján recalls. “I need to be able to cast that vote, because in my head I was the one who would prevent this. And you didn’t want that on your shoulders, did you? That was bad for the country.”

He said he was “very proud” to cast his vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will become the first black woman to join the Supreme Court just weeks after leaving hospital.

Luján is an increasingly rare figure in a polarized Washington. He is widely known in the Senate as a kind and considerate colleague, someone who builds relationships with opponents, seeks bipartisan projects, and cheerfully greets everyone he meets in the hallways.

A 2019 Politico profile of Luján, written when he was still an up-and-coming lawmaker, bore the headline, “Can a nice guy like Ben Ray Luján make his way to the top?” In the end, he decided to run to the Senate in 2020 rather than climb the leading ranks in the House.

While in the hospital, he received text messages from Republican colleagues, even those he didn’t know well. “Several of them would contact me every day,” he said. “Just, ‘Hey, man, you’re on my mind. You’re being monitored. I’m sending you love and support.’”

The rehabilitation was tough. Sometimes his body wanted to send him to the left. His physical therapists tested him by walking backwards or pushing him off balance. “I kept saying, ‘Nobody can do this!'” he said.

At a certain low point, he was startled by what he was being asked to do. A nurse, a young man named Tyler, told him, “Look, Ben, you can be your own worst enemy, or you can choose to get better.”

He took that advice to heart, and his recovery has been remarkably fast — “miraculously,” he said. He attributes it to prayer, good doctors, the support of loved ones, and the power of positive thinking. But through his experience, Luján is determined to leave a mark on the world.

“Now that I’ve survived this, I know there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said. “And I intend to do it.”

  • Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said he planned to move Wednesday to introduce a bill that would codify abortion rights into federal law, but the move appeared to be symbolic as Democrats lacked the support they needed. to have.

  • In a difficult year for Democrats, party strategists see the impending rollback of reproductive rights as an opportunity to boost key voting blocs, limit Republican gains, and perhaps even win seats in certain state legislatures.

  • In the Republican primary for governor of Georgia, David Perdue, whose challenge to Governor Brian Kemp is widely seen as struggling, is trying to push the governor to the right on abortion, Maya King writes.

  • Arizona is a swing state. Still, Republicans are swinging far to the right on conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, reports Jennifer Medina.

Political ads are usually quite simple. Shoot a gun to show your toughness. Wear a shed jacket to show you’re normal. And if you’re a sitting Republican facing a right-wing primary, post as many images of Donald Trump as you can in 30 seconds to show your loyalty.

But in Rep Nancy Mace’s last adthe subtext is harder to recognize.

After the Capitol riot, Mace, a Republican congresswoman from South Carolina, seemed poised to join a small group of her GOP House colleagues in holding Trump accountable. But shortly after becoming a cable news star for criticizing her party’s leader, she withdrew to his camp and voted against his impeachment.

That didn’t stop Trump from backing a primary challenger, Katie Arrington.

Mace gets help from another South Carolina politician whose initial anger at Trump also seems to have dissipated after Jan. 6: Nikki Haley, a former governor who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In a new ad, Haley speaks directly to the camera while calling Mace “tough as nails” and praising her for protecting the border, cutting taxes and opposing abortion. As she speaks, the ad shows clips of Mace with voters and her family.

Haley also credits Mace for turning the neighborhood around in 2020, saying “she’ll keep it Republican.”

When it comes to keeping the district Republican, there’s some history there.

In 2018, Mace’s current primary challenger, Arrington, took on a primary challenge against Representative Mark Sanford and defeated him after Trump approved her on Election Day, just hours before the polls closed.

The neighborhood seemed safe from Republicans, and Trump spent much of the campaign cycle beaming at Sanford’s loss. But in an upset, Joe Cunningham, a Democrat, defeated Arrington.

Two years later, Mace expelled Cunningham. But Trump again backs Arrington, accusing Mace of betraying him.

The eventual primary winner has a strong preference for winning in the general election, especially after realignment, which made the first congressional district even kinder to Republicans. But in her ad for Mace, Haley subtly warned voters that nothing is guaranteed in this South Carolina district.

Mace’s campaign manager J. Austin McCubbin said her voters knew her as “the fighter who won back this seat for Republicans after losing in 2018 for the first time in nearly 40 years,” adding, “They know that she is the one who will win in November.”

— Blake & Lea

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