Spending in New Mexico’s 2nd district congressional busts into stratosphere

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Courtesy of campaign websites

2nd Congressional District candidates Yvette Herrell, left, a Republican from Alamogordo, and Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat from Las Cruces.

This year’s rematch between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s second congressional district is one of the most closely-watched in the nation, generating tensions within the state’s oil and gas industry and tens of millions in outside spending. Roll Call has identified Torres Small as one of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents up for re-election this year. The respected Cook Political Report rates the race as a tossup. 

At this point, candidates and outside groups have spent a combined sum exceeding $30 million. Spending in 2018 approached $14 million, in a year when across the country record spending was recorded. According to Matt Reichbach at the New Mexico Political report, the New Mexico record occurred in the 2006 race for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district seat, at $14.8 million.

Torres Small has spent roughly $6.65 million, more than doubling Herrell’s $2.46 million. An array of outside groups have spent over $21 million.

To arrive at these figures we took a look at the Election DataBot, created by the nonprofit investigative journalism organizing ProPublica, and at the tally maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, or opensecrets.org. Both pull campaign finance data from the Federal Elections Committee and other information from a variety of sources. We won’t have a full picture of all spending until after the election is over and the next round of quarterly reports are filed. 

The National Republican Campaign Committee remains the top spender in the race, pouring in almost $5 million and far outstripping the $2.8 million spent by its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC. The seat is a much bigger prize for Republicans, whose chances of reclaiming the majority rely on unseating incumbents like Torres Small, who won by just under 4,000 votes as part of 2018’s “blue wave.”

However, Torres Small can count on the support of an array of outside liberal groups, including the Wilderness Society Action Fund, the House Majority PAC, and large sums from EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters. Combine all 35 outside groups and the spending is roughly equal on both sides.

All that money is largely funding media advertising. 

The two congressional committees have focused on running negative ads against the other side. 

One ad from the NRCC, entitled “California,” seeks to tie Torres Small to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while claiming she “voted to kill energy jobs.” Another Spanish-language ad conveys a similar message. 

The DCCC, meanwhile, is running an ad entitled “Egregious” that highlights accusations of self-dealing and political corruption by Herrell.

The Congressional Leadership fund, a GOP Super-PAC closely tied to House Republican leadership, has run an ad entitled “Xochitl Torres Small, Stop,” which claims that the incumbent representative is supporting a “radical liberal” plan to “raise taxes, kill oil and gas, gun control.” 

These attacks are tailor-made for this district, where both Torres Small and Herrell have run ads touting their use of guns.

The political arm of the Wilderness Society, a group that advocates to protect public lands, has also spent big in the race. One positive ad from the group highlights Torres Small’s support of the “Great American Outdoors Act,” while a negative spot accuses Herrell of “trying to exploit our public lands” and “putting our drinking water at risk.”

New Mexico In Depth took a look at divisions within the New Mexico Oil and Gas industry, which includes smaller, New Mexico based oil companies as well as large out-of-state companies that are big producers in the Permian Basin.

Correction: This article originally cited figures solely from ProPublica’s Election Bot. One outside spender said to a news partner that the figure reported for their organization was incorrect and that they would be communicating that to ProPublica. New Mexico In Depth removed the chart we had originally included, and also researched outside spending reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. While the two organizations have slightly different numbers for outside spenders, they reflect the same large groups and overall amount of spending remains the same. Our original reporting that when combined, outside spending and candidate spending exceeds $30 million remains true. We’ve added additional information from the Center for Responsive Politics and made several other changes to ensure we aren’t inaccurately reporting one organization’s spending.

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