By Jim Ellis
July 12, 2017 — A major announcement was made in a western state governor’s race Monday, with an additional one from an adjacent domain coming later today. Both affect corresponding US House seats.
New Mexico Governor; NM-2
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) announced that he will enter the open New Mexico governor’s race next year, saying to the Albuquerque Journal that he’s “concerned about an exodus of young people leaving New Mexico,” going to other places for a more favorable job market. Pearce said his campaign will emphasize improving education, spurring economic growth, and reducing crime and poverty.
This will be the second time Pearce has left his House seat to pursue a statewide contest. In 2008, when serving his third term in Congress, he decided to challenge then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) for the US Senate nomination, and successfully upset her in the Republican primary. He would then go onto lose the general election to then-Rep. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe), 61-39 percent, in the Obama landslide year.
In the 2nd Congressional District, a seat that has encompassed the entire southern half of New Mexico through several redistricting periods, Democratic candidate Harry Teague ran a successful conversion campaign and won the 2008 open seat election with a 56 percent vote share.
After his statewide defeat, however, Pearce returned to the 2nd District two years later and rather easily unseated Teague (55-45 percent) in the latter’s first re-election effort. Despite a 54 percent Hispanic population, Rep. Pearce has won re-election victories between 59 and 64 percent since returning to the House. President Trump carried NM-2 by 10 percentage points last November even while losing the state, 40-48 percent.
The Pearce move is not particularly surprising. Rumors had abounded for some time that the 69-year-old congressman would hop into the statewide campaign especially since neither Lt. Gov. John Sanchez nor Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has so far done so, though both still say they are considering the race.
Democrats recently saw a spate of activity here, with five candidates announcing for the congressional seat, most doing so because they believed the seat would open. None of the five are elected officials, so we should see several more Democrats enter the race now that the district will officially be incumbent-less for the coming campaign.
We can also expect obvious movement on the Republican side, and are virtually assured of seeing several state legislators and/or local officials throughout the district now stepping up to run for Congress.
Though Pearce made this seat safe for himself, Harry Teague’s election the last time District 2 was open means we can expect an ensuing highly competitive battle. This new open seat will become a major target for both parties.
Colorado Governor; CO-7
It is being widely reported that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), who declared his gubernatorial candidacy three months ago, will withdraw from the race at an announcement news conference in his hometown of Golden later this morning. The campaign source is also saying that the Congressman will continue with his plan to retire from the House despite leaving the statewide campaign.
Speculation explaining his action centers around Perlmutter finding the competition for scare primary campaign dollars much too difficult in a state with more stringent campaign finance laws than even the federal government. With fellow Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) now a gubernatorial candidate and having the ability to spend millions of his personal funds on his campaign, having adequate resources to compete may well be the main political reason that Perlmutter has decided to drop his statewide bid.
Since the representative is apparently staying the course to leave Congress, the 7th District open campaign will go largely unchanged. All of the key action will be on the Democratic side since this seat has become safe for the current incumbent’s party. President Trump lost here, 39-51 percent, for example, and Rep. Perlmutter hasn’t had a serious challenge since 2012. Three Democratic state legislators, two senators and one representative, have been campaigning during the period since Rep. Perlmutter announced his gubernatorial campaign and each will continue to move forward with their federal political efforts.