In New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, the battle for a fluctuating House seat is heating up as August approaches.
Former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) took the seat in 2002 and held it through three cycles until he opted to run for Senate against fellow former New Mexico Rep. Tom Udall (D). It was a bad year for Pearce to run for the Senate; he lost 61 to 38 percent. In the House race to replace Pearce, Harry Teague (D) flipped the seat for the Democrats with a margin of 11 points. Now Pearce wants the seat back.
The race between Pearce and Teague is very close and, despite almost six months of campaigning, no significant shift has occurred in public support for either candidate. A public policy poll (PPP) taken in February had Pearce up 2 points. A poll Pearce commissioned in the same month had him up by 4 points. While nothing has been disclosed, neither candidate’s internal polls have been groundbreaking enough to merit their release.
A new campaign finance report released Thursday showed that Pearce outraised Teague in the last quarter $462,000 to $317,000. Both have over $1 million in cash on hand. But the money battle is not as even as FEC disclosures would suggest. Teague’s companies are facing a $2.7 million lawsuit for failing to repay loans on equipment they rented in 2006. For his first House race, Teague put $1.5 million of his own money into his campaign. He certainly cannot duplicate that amount this year.
At first glance, it looks like this seat is trending toward the Republican, and RCP classifies this race as “leaning” toward the GOP. Democrats, however, hold high hopes for this seat. In a state where Hispanics outnumber any other ethnic group besides whites (44.9%), Democrats are hoping that the Arizona immigration law resonates with voters enough to drive up Hispanic participation. The heavily Hispanic and progressive-leaning city of Las Cruces has grown significantly in the past several years, and voters there may be more of a factor this year then they have been before.
Furthermore, New Mexico has an ongoing toss-up governor’s race to replace term-limited Gov. Bill Richardson (D). The immigration debate has taken center stage in the state following the nomination of Susana Martinez (R), who supports of the Arizona law.
While Martinez endorses a “path to citizenship,” she is vocal in her opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens currently residing in NM. Her opponent, Diane Denish (D), has adopted a more nuanced approach to the problem of illegal immigration: “I frankly do not have an answer about what to do with the millions of undocumented immigrants already here. But I do believe the way we are approaching the debate so far is not conducive to creating reasoned public policy.” Criticizing the tenor of dialogue can often yield more dividends than weighing in with solutions, particularly in a sticky and controversial debate like immigration reform.
Both races are within the margin of error and deserve close scrutiny as Election Day comes closer and closer. NM-02 may serve as a bellwether to measure the impact that Arizona’s immigration law will have on the voting patterns of American constituencies, particularly Hispanics.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org