Editor’s note: A previous version of this story ran in the Daily Lobo’s print edition on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. That story has been updated with quotes from one of the candidates that came in after deadline.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to more accurately represent legislation referenced within.
One of the closest congressional races in the country is taking place in southern New Mexico: House District 2, contested between incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican and former state legislator Yvette Herrell.
After two years in Congress, the Torres Small campaign has experience and a voting record which they believe demonstrates the representative’s understanding of the district and its unique policy needs.
“Voters can look at the bipartisan work she’s done to secure the border, expand rural health care, and to protect New Mexico’s public lands,” the Torres Small campaign told The Daily Lobo. “(She) approaches all legislation from the impact it would have on her constituents.”
Herrell, meanwhile, has touted her new campaign team and the fact that President Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee as evidence that she has momentum on her side.
“I am a better, stronger candidate this time,” Herrell said. “Republican enthusiasm in New Mexico is also sky high with President Trump at the top of the ticket.”
Polling suggests the state’s other federal congressional seats are likely to remain in Democratic hands, but the 2nd District is in question.
The 2nd District has historically leaned Republican and is diverse, covering all of Las Cruces as well as a number of rural cities and towns throughout the southern half of the state.
“Representative Torres Small has been, in my view, a true representative of the people because she has been able to represent the interests of her constituents (across the district),” said Dr. Magdaleno Manzanarez, professor of political science and vice president of external affairs at Western New Mexico University, which is located in the 2nd District. “It’s not a monolithic district. To me, she has proved she can do the job very well.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly four times more money has been raised in this race than either of the other House races in the state. By the most recently available data, Torres Small’s campaign has raised $4.5 million – nearly four times more than Herrell’s $1.2 million – but the Herrell campaign has raised slightly more within the district than Torres Small.
Much of this money has gone to advertising, where the candidates have sparred over key issues, including Second Amendment rights and the oil and gas industry.
One of the Herrell campaign’s advertisements accuses Torres Small of “selling out” pro-Second Amendment constituents by voting for HR-8, a resolution meant to close gun show sale loopholes.
The ad has received pushback. KOB wrote that the claim was “misleading,” saying that the bill would not have prevented anyone from buying a gun.
“Rep. Torres Small is a gun owner and a hunter who knows the importance of protecting our Second Amendment rights while also protecting our communities,” the Torres Small campaign said. “That’s why, like 87% of New Mexicans, she supports comprehensive background checks and voted for (HR-8), making sure it had reasonable exceptions.”
Herrell has maintained that the resolution was out of line with the Second Amendment, pointing to a statement released by the Trump administration opposing it.
The Herrell campaign has adopted the slogan “Stop Xocialism.” However, Torres Small has ranked as one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress according to DW-NOMINATE, a metric developed by political scientists which ranks members of Congress on how liberal or conservative they are according to their voting record.
One of the topics on which Torres Small has broken at times from the rest of the Democratic Party is on subjects of oil and gas, an industry which makes up an enormous portion of New Mexico’s economy.
“If we shut down oil and gas drilling in New Mexico today, we’d have to shut our schools down tomorrow,” Torres Small said in a February statement. “I will continue to support responsible energy production in the district, including one of our country’s largest sources of oil and gas in the Permian Basin.”
The executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, Ryan Flynn, has been complimentary of Torres Small’s record while simultaneously emerging at the center of a rift between the fossil fuel trade group and the state’s Republican Party.
Flynn praised Torres Small’s record and said she had been an advocate for oil and gas. Several prominent New Mexican Republicans, including party chair Steve Pearce, rebuked his statement in an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, accusing Flynn of using the trade group as a political tool.
The Torres Small campaign’s statement was in opposition to the fracking ban proposed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14).
“You have to be pragmatic,” Manzanarez said. “In District 2, a true representative has to walk the line. From the progressive side, sometimes (Torres Small) has been criticized … assuming she (goes) against oil interests ... what do you do with people who make a living out of that industry?”
However, Herrell says Torres Small’s advocacy for the industry is unreliable.
Herrell has claimed the representative changed her vote on a measure preventing future presidents from banning fracking, saying “Her flip flop … demonstrates she will cave to environmental extremists when it counts.”
However, the Albuquerque Journal said in Aug. that the vote that Herrell is referencing (House Resolution 844) was on a procedural motion, not a fracking ban. Torres Small has stated that she would oppose a ban on fracking.
Asked about whether the Congresswoman supports an eventual transition to renewable energy, the Torres Small campaign stated she favors a negotiated approach.
“Rep. Torres Small knows climate change is real and New Mexicans are already feeling its effects,” the campaign said. “She believes New Mexico must be part of the solution - but we can only do it by having all parties at the table.”
In-person voter registration is open until Oct. 31. Absentee ballots can be requested until Oct. 20.
William Bowen is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BowenWrites