National PACs jump into 2nd congressional district race; we analyze the ads

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Herrell for Congress

State Rep. Yvette Herrell is an Alamogordo realtor.

The southern New Mexico congressional race is finally getting the national attention many have been expecting. With a major push by Democrats to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the two women vying for the District 2 seat vacated this year by Rep. Steve Pearce are getting help from their national parties. That’s because the seat, long held by Republicans, is considered by national analysts as one that has a chance of flipping to Democratic control.

Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, a water lawyer from Las Cruces, and Republican Yvette

Xoch for Congress

Xochitl Torres Small is a lawyer from Las Cruces specializing in water issues.

Herrell, a state lawmaker and real estate agent from Alamogordo, have each been subjected to attack ads by Democratic and Republican PACs hoping to boost their preferred candidate’s chances. And the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is endorsed by House Republicans, added the race to fall advertising reservations.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, chaired by New Mexico’s own Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, of District 3, supports Democratic candidates for the House. The DCCC released a video called “Trust” on Sept. 11 that said Herrell failed to list $440,000 in lease payments made by the state of New Mexico to her real estate company, Herrell Properties, in her financial disclosure statements.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP House PAC,  responded Sept. 18 with its own attack against Torres Small. A press release touting the ad, called “Liberal Activist,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is bankrolling Torres Small’s campaign and paints Torres Small as a “foot soldier for the radical left’s agenda.”

Breaking down the claims

“Trust”: The ad revives a charge by a Republican primary challenger that Herrell didn’t properly disclose state contracts the Taxation and Revenue and Environment Departments had to lease property from a business where she is a partner. The ad quotes an Albuquerque Journal editorial  that called the lax disclosure “egregious.” The central claim in the ad is accurate. When the issue was first raised by the campaign of Hobbs businessman Monty Newman in April, the Associated Press reported that the contracts were not listed in Herrell’s disclosures. Since that time, Herrell has amended the financial disclosures to comply with state regulations, again according to the AP. Although the ad says Herrell’s record is “filled with controversy,” the ethics charge is the only one the DCCC video makes.

“Liberal Activist”: This ad is much less specific than the Herrell attack ad, seeking to brand Torres Small as part of a wave of liberals “on the march.” The main claim is that Torres Small has the support of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi because, among other things, she will back a “total government takeover of health care.” This claim is misleading on two fronts. Neither Pelosi nor Torres Small has endorsed government-provided health care, or “Medicare for All.” The Las Cruces Sun-News story cited in the ad says Torres Small’s primary opponent, Mad Hildebrandt, supported universal health care. In the story, and on her website, Torres Small said she wanted to protect the Affordable Care Act, and work for access to affordable health coverage, particularly in rural areas. Torres Small has received $10,000 from the Pelosi-affiliated PAC to the Future.

Breaking down the money

Torres Small had a lot more cash on hand at the end of June going into the general election, according to data from Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission. But there have been almost three months since then for Herrell to catch up in the money race. The next reports won’t be filed until October.

As of June 30, Torres Small had raised $928,419 and spent $432,438. That left her $495,980 cash on hand, nearly five times more than her opponent.

As for who’s giving, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, about 20 percent of Torres Small’s contributors are small donors, those who’ve given $200 or less, and 23 percent comes from political action committees — $215,625. Herrell reported raising $512,610 as of June 30. She had spent $412,316 and had $100,294 cash on hand. Five percent comes from small donors ($200 or less), and about 13 percent of Herrell’s contributors are PACs. The balance of their accounts come from large donors, a mix of individual contributors and businesses. Top industries include oil and gas, and agriculture for Herrell, and attorneys and educators for Torres Small.

A recent Albuquerque Journal poll done by New Mexico pollster Research & Polling Inc. showed Herrell with a convincing lead of 48 percent to 41 percent. A live poll by the New York Times found Torres Small ahead by 1 point, 46 percent to 45 percent, but well within the 5 percentage point margin of error. National groups that track the chances of candidates, like the Cook Political Report, currently have the race at too close to call, with Cook this week moving it from “lean Republican” to “Republican toss up.”


Ximena Tapia is New Mexico In Depth’s southern New Mexico academic fellow for 2018/2019. Reach her at ximenanmid@gmail.com. Read more about the fellowship here.