New Mexico’s 2nd: Too Cute By Half?

By Jim Ellis

Freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces) faces the full-on press of a GOP battle to challenge her.

May 29, 2020fh — The Democrats, or at least those who run the Patriot Majority organization, have made a high-risk move in trying to influence the outcome of the 2nd District Republican primary next week, so we shall soon see if their gamble pays dividends.

The GOP battle to challenge freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces) is largely between the 2018 nominee who lost what was a Republican seat, former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, and Claire Chase, who chairs the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. Clearly the Democratic leadership believes Herrell is the weaker candidate, which is why their agents are actively engaged in ironically trying to define her as the true Trump Republican candidate.

President Trump has not endorsed in this race, but him doing so has been magic for candidates receiving such Republican primary support. The Patriot Majority media buy, which approaches $200,000 and appears to concentrate on targeted radio and digital advertising in order to best communicate with conservative audiences, emphasizes that Herrell is the candidate most in lockstep with the president. The ad script also attempts to put Chase on the defensive for making past negative comments about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

NM-2 has the potential of becoming one of the top challenge races in the country and is likely a must-win if the Republicans are going to make any serious run at re-taking the House majority. And, recalling that Trump won this district by slightly more than 10 percentage points means the progressive left involvement in the GOP primary to implement a strategy of identifying a particular candidate as the stronger Trump supporter does carry its risks for the general election.

The Patriot Majority super PAC organization was formed during the 2010 election cycle. During the succeeding elections cycles, the entity is reported as spending well over $6 million, the overwhelming percentage of which being used to attack Republican candidates.

New Mexico’s 2nd District occupies the southern sector of the state, including all of the Mexican border territory. It contains the cities of Las Cruces, the district’s largest municipality with more than 101,000 residents, Roswell, Hobbs, and Carlsbad.

The 2nd has voted Republican for the US House in 36 of the last 40 years, inclusive (Reps. Joe Skeen and Steve Pearce), but has the highest Citizen Voting Age Hispanic factor among the three New Mexico districts according to the US Census Bureau (45.2 percent). The other two Land of Enchantment domains also have major Hispanic population percentages, however.

When veteran Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) retired from the House for the second time in 2018, this time to run for governor (he retired in 2008 to run for Senate), the race between Torres Small and Herrell evolved to succeed the seven-term congressman. The election proved close, and Torres Small converted the seat in a Democratic wave year by a scant 51-49 percent margin, translating into a spread of 3,722 votes from more than 199,000 ballots cast.

Fundraising, however, was not close, as the Democratic nominee easily outraised Herrell $4.81 million to $1.15 million.

This year, the freshman incumbent has already gathered almost $4 million as reported through the pre-primary disclosure period that ended May 13 in preparation for the June 2 primary. During the same period, potential challenger Chase has accumulated almost $1.8 million while Herrell lags behind with just about $820,000 in campaign receipts. The financial numbers underscore the Democrats’ predisposition and analysis that Herrell would be the weaker general election candidate.

Though Rep. Torres Small has attempted to moderate her vote in the House to better reflect her constituency, she is still a major target for 2020. And, the race will move up the Republican priority list should Chase win on Tuesday. It will be worth watching over the next few days to see how this campaign comes to a climax. Will the Democrats’ gambit work, or will the Chase campaign be successful in exposing the pro-Herrell independent expenditure ads as a political fraud?

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