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Mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson, right, consoles Diego Sanchez after he lost a fight in 2012. Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A renowned mixed martial arts coach is considering an independent run for the U.S. House seat in New Mexico being vacated by Deb Haaland, potentially disrupting the Democrats' effort to retain it in a closely divided Congress, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The potential candidate, Greg Jackson, is a celebrity within the MMA world. A campaign by him could attract enough votes to throw off the carefully calibrated picks the Democrats and Republicans are expected to make in the special election to succeed Haaland, who is being nominated to serve as Interior secretary.

Flashback: Republican Bill Redmond flipped a reliably Democratic congressional seat in Northern New Mexico during a 1997 special election, after independent candidates and the Green Party took votes away from Democratic nominee Eric Serna.

The backstory: Jackson is co-owner of the Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque and one of the world's most sought-out MMA trainers.

  • The academy, located off famed Route 66, is a tourist spot. MMA fans often camp outside to get selfies with Jackson and famed fighters.
  • Jackson has trained former MMA champions Jon "Bones" Jones and Holly Holm.

What they’re saying: "I'm exploring a run because I care about this community and I feel I can make a difference," Jackson told Axios.

  • While unaffiliated with any party, Jackson said he leans Democratic and is passionate about criminal justice reform. Among his ideas is teaching officers how to use MMA combat techniques to avoid resorting to deadly force to protect themselves and suspects.
  • Jackson also said he would push for the expansion of federal early childcare programs to fight poverty in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the U.S.

Driving the news: President-elect Joe Biden informed Haaland last week he had picked her to lead the Department of Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

  • Haaland's pending departure has set off a scramble by aspiring political stars who want the marquee seat representing Albuquerque.
  • New Mexico law allows political parties to pick their own nominees for special elections to U.S. House seats without a primary, a king-making role sometimes angering voters who dislike the choices.
  • Some Hispanic Democrats have been angry themselves at the white, progressive wing of their party for squeezing out Latino moderate state lawmakers over differences about abortion and spending priorities.
  • Factions among Republicans — led by state party chair and former Rep. Steve Pearce versus fans of former Gov. Susana Martinez — remain at odds over the party's direction and big losses in 2020.

Be smart: Biden's selection of Haaland has further trimmed an already narrow Democratic margin in the House. The risk of having an independent throw the New Mexico race to the Republican Party is sure to get the attention of the president-elect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Go deeper

How Dems could notch tech wins even with a dysfunctional Senate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech policy may be one area where Democrats will be able to smash through the logjam forming around their razor-thin Senate margin and actually pass meaningful legislation.

The big picture: Many Democrats want to hit Big Tech with new antitrust laws, updates to Section 230, privacy legislation and more. The party may be united enough on such issues — and able to peel off GOP support — to pass laws around them even as the Senate's 50-50 party-line split and shifting priorities imperil other legislative possibilities.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

5 hours ago - World

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne spent longer under lockdown than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.