Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Heather Wilson Running to the Right in N.M.

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Former Rep. Heather Wilson is back and bidding for the Republican Senate nomination to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman in New Mexico.

In early June, the Wilson campaign highlighted a vote Sanchez took during his one term in the state House to reinstate collective bargaining rights for state workers. But Sanchez supporters say he led the right-to-work movement in the state, erasing any past questions about his stance on labor.

“If she’s going to hit Sanchez on anything, she needs to have a good record of her own. And she simply doesn’t,” Sanchez adviser Corbin Casteel told Roll Call.

The Club for Growth is looking at the race, but there is little chance it will endorse Wilson after investing more than half a million dollars against her three years ago.

Wilson and Sanchez both met recently with Max Pappas, FreedomWorks’ vice president of public policy who is in charge of vetting candidates for its new super political action committee. The grass-roots group plans to have a say in more than a dozen Senate races next year, but it is not ready to endorse anyone in New Mexico just yet.

“We’re in the process of talking to our membership in the state. We’ve got thousands of members in New Mexico,” said Pappas, who had nothing but good things to say about Sanchez.

On TARP, Wilson said the situation laid out for Members in September 2008 briefings was dire — they were told the entire banking system was at risk if Congress took no immediate action.

“It was a terrible situation to be in,” Wilson said. “I did what I thought was best for the country at the time.”

That vote has caused problems for Republicans around the country, including in neighboring Utah, where former Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted by fellow Republicans last year and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) is working hard to avoid the same fate.

As many conservatives in Congress are saying now, Wilson told Roll Call that she thinks it would be more irresponsible to increase the debt ceiling without coinciding spending cuts than to let the deadline to raise it pass. When serving in Congress in the majority, she voted to increase the limit at least once.

Wilson spent nearly $5 million on her 2006 re-election campaign in the moderate, Albuquerque-based 1st district, which she won that year by fewer than 1,000 votes. The former Congresswoman estimates she will have to raise $8 million to $10 million to win the Senate seat. She got off to a good start, raising more than $300,000 in the first three weeks of her campaign.

Democrats also face a tough primary bout between Rep. Martin Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas. Heinrich enjoys the same name identification advantage as Wilson but could be in for just as difficult an intraparty challenge.

At the presidential level, Wilson said New Mexico “starts out in play,” despite President Barack Obama’s 15-point victory there in 2008.

The New Mexico Senate race could have looked drastically different had Bingaman waited a day, even a few more hours, to announce his retirement.

Wilson, who began taking a hard look at the race in early January, was at an event at Sandia National Laboratories on Feb. 18 when the news broke of Bingaman’s retirement.

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