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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.

Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) sounds like a tea partyer.

The former Congresswoman, who ran on her national security expertise and independent voting record to win five full terms representing Albuquerque, is now boasting that she has signed a conservative “cut, cap and balance” pledge, says she wouldn’t increase the debt ceiling unless a deal includes significant budget cuts and calls the new health care law unconstitutional.

As she faces a competitive primary against Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and at least two others vying for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D), Wilson is tacking to the right every chance she gets.

“Primaries are a family fight,” Wilson told Roll Call during a recent interview in Washington, D.C. “I’m a pro-free enterprise, pro-Second Amendment, pro-life Republican.”

She’s wooing the same brand of groups that spent $600,000 during the 2008 Senate primary on ads that painted her as favoring tax increases. She lost the nomination to Rep. Steve Pearce, a conservative who fell to Democrat Tom Udall in the general election.

Wilson is looking to claim the conservative mantle, and sparks are already flying between the two leading candidates, with each questioning the other’s record. She is engaging with tea party activists and building a coalition of support as she faces the same questions about her conservative credentials — and one more about her vote in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Wilson has the blessing of 26 state legislators, former Republican Reps. Manuel Lujan and Bill Redmond, and former Sen. Pete Domenici (R), who also endorsed her over Pearce in the closing days of the 2008 primary.

Her campaign’s YouTube channel features a video titled, “Conservatives Support Heather Wilson,” and last week she signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge sponsored by a coalition of conservative groups including Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Express.

A GOP primary poll released last week by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Wilson with a 2-to-1 lead over Sanchez, including a 17-point lead among those self-identifying as “very conservative.” That’s partly due to Wilson’s name identification advantage, but she also remains quite popular, with a 66 percent favorable rating overall.

Wilson said Sanchez “is not who he says he is” and that he and Gov. Susana Martinez (R) rarely speak. Wilson has known Martinez for years and served as chairwoman of the governor’s transition  team through December.

Martinez won’t endorse in the primary, but she quickly made clear she’s not on board with Sanchez by limiting his duties as lieutenant governor when he announced his bid.

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