Suddenly, two of the biggest political contests in New Mexico look a lot different. In a political earthquake, New Mexico 2nd District Congressman Steve Pearce announced he won’t run for re-election in 2018. Instead, Pearce is the first candidate to announce he’s seeking the Republican nomination for New Mexico Governor. And Pearce says he talked with two other potential GOP candidates in December: Lt. Governor John Sanchez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. Pearce says both men told him they’re not running for Governor.
Despite the apparent lack of a difficult primary battle, Pearce could have a challenging road ahead. If he gets the nomination, he’ll be competing for Governor in a mid-term election in a state that went for Hillary Clinton by eight points.
Moreover, Pearce has raised controversy by voting for the Republican health care bill…which would reduce Medicaid spending in a state where nearly half the population uses the service…due in part to the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act.
Whatever his challenges, Pearce also has a track record. He’s served as New Mexico’s 2nd District representative since 2003, with only one two-year hiatus…2009 and 2010. That hiatus due to Pearce’s last attempt to win a statewide election…his failed 2008 bid for U.S. Senate.
Pearce lost to Senator Tom Udall 61 to 39 percent in a year when former President Barack Obama beat Senator John McCain in New Mexico by a similar margin, 57 to 42 percent.
“Did I learn anything? And that is that I should not run in a landslide year. If I would have run two years later, we would have won by ten points” said Pearce.
A growing Democratic field in the race for Governor includes another member of the state’s Congressional delegation who’s giving up her seat to run for Governor: 1st District Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. A Republican poll earlier this year showed Pearce down by just four points in a hypothetical race against Lujan Grisham.
Pearce also knows how to attract campaign donors. During his career, followthe money.org shows more than 8300 contributions for Pearce totaling more than $8 million dollars.
Pearce says “five or six” people have talked to him about running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional district but he’s not ready to make an endorsement at this time. When asked if his decision not to run for re-election could hand the 2nd district to a Democrat, Pearce said no.
“Every election we led Presidential candidates who lost statewide into a win in the 2nd district” Pearce said.
Four candidates have announced they’re seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District: Madeline Hildebrandt of Socorro and Las Cruces residents Ronald Fitzherbert, David Baake, and Tony Martinez.
Baake, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2014, released a statement expressing optimism following the Pearce announcement. That same optimism can be heard in Baake’s video campaign announcement:
“We can see where our country is headed now. It’s going in the wrong direction. We need new vision and new leadership” Baake said.
Earlier this year, we spoke to another Democrat running in the 2nd District, Tony Martinez, who leads Las Cruces Indvisible, part of a national resistance movement that developed after President Donald Trump took office.
“We can flip the Congress to be a progressive Congress filled with more Democrats than Republicans. Then, we’ve got the mechanism to be able to stop the Trump agenda” Martinez said.
While the future of the 2nd district and the Governor’s mansion won’t be decided until next year, one thing seems clear. 2018 will be a very interesting political year in New Mexico.