Southern New Mexico, get ready for a deluge of political advertisements and national media attention that will last through November 2010.
This week’s announcement that Republican Steve Pearce will try to retake his old U.S. House seat from Democrat Harry Teague sets up what is certain to be one of the most hotly contested and high-profile House races in the nation next year.
This is a seat Republicans think they shouldn’t have lost in 2008 after holding it for 28 years. It’s a district John McCain won. So Republicans will pump a great deal of money into trying to take it back.
Democrats know they’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to keep the conservative district represented by a Democrat. They clearly have every intention of doing that.
The race pits two oilmen from Hobbs against each other in a district in which the oil and gas industry is king. Before running for the seat last year, Teague was long a supporter of Pearce — giving $1,000 to Pearce’s campaign in 2004 and $2,100 in 2006 (he also gave money to Pearce’s Democratic opponent in 2006). Pearce and Teague used to be friends, and Pearce’s family is close to the family of Teague’s wife.
But don’t let that lead you to believe the two candidates are all that similar. According to CQ Politics, Teague has voted with Democrats in the House 87 percent of the time, including his vote in favor of the massive stimulus bill. Pearce, during his time in Congress, voted over and over against funding bills, becoming a favorite of the libertarian wing of his party.
The race should be close. Teague is the incumbent, having defeated Republican Ed Tinsley by almost 12 points last year. But Pearce voluntarily gave up the seat for an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2008 after easily winning re-election in 2004 and 2006. This is as much a clash of the titans as you can have in politics. And it will be nasty, regardless of the past history between the two candidates.
Either candidate can win.
An energy debate
While government spending will be an issue in the race, the primary debate will be over energy. We’re 16 months away from Election Day 2010, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has already come out with radio ads and robocalls attacking Teague for his recent vote in favor of a controversial cap-and-trade energy bill.
Around the district, Teague has faced crowds of angry constituents because many believe the legislation, if enacted, will harm southern New Mexico’s economy.
Even before Pearce entered the race, he and the state GOP attacked Teague in a news release, stating that he is “Voting like a San Francisco Liberal.” And when Pearce announced his candidacy, he cited as his motivation Teague’s votes on the cap-and-trade and stimulus bills.
“For the past half year, I have stood by and hoped for the best for our state and country. I had hoped Harry Teague would look out for the hard working people of New Mexico,” Pearce said. “Sadly, while I hoped for the best, Harry Teague embraced a reckless set of policies that directly jeopardize our economy and threatens future generations.”
Democrats have responded in force. The state Democratic Party sent an e-mail linking to a video in which a veterans group thanked Teague for voting for the cap-and-trade bill. State party Chairman Brian Colòn attacked Pearce as “nothing more than a return to the failed policies of the last two terms of the Bush administration.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a news release about Pearce’s “legacy” of “rising debt and limitless hypocrisy.” And Teague trotted out T. Boone Pickens, a Texas oilman who is pushing alternative energy. Pickens lauded Teague as an “energy independence crusader.”
It’s going to be a wild ride
This is the level of attention the Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District race usually receives. So far, it appears Democrats and Republicans in Washington instead have their sights set on the southern New Mexico district.
“You can be sure that the NRCC will be paying very close attention to the race, and will be joined by conservative groups and disgruntled Democrats who are outraged by Teague’s votes that are consistently out of sync with the interests of New Mexico’s 2nd district,” Rebecca Mark, an online strategist for the NRCC, wrote in an e-mail.
Teague spent about $1.5 million of his own money on the primary and general elections last year. The DCCC spent another $1.2 million to help him defeat Tinsley. Pearce, by contrast, has personal wealth but has never spent it on a race. Will he this time? His chances may depend on his willingness to match Teague’s spending.
Regardless, look for millions of dollars to be pumped into the Teague/Pearce race in the next 16 months by the national parties, other outside groups and at least by Teague. It’s going to be a wild ride.