New Mexico rematch: Herrell to face Torres Small again

Lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez bests ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame in race for Luján seat

Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small faces a rematch with the woman she beat in 2018 after Yvette Herrell won the Republican primary in New Mexico’s 2nd District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small faces a rematch with the woman she beat in 2018 after Yvette Herrell won the Republican primary in New Mexico’s 2nd District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 2, 2020 at 11:44pm

Former state Rep. Yvette Herrell won a nasty Republican primary in New Mexico’s 2nd District on Tuesday, setting up a rematch against Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, one of the GOP’s top targets this year.

Herrell, who lost to Torres Small by less than 2 points in 2018, beat oil industry executive Claire Chase and businessman Chris Mathys in a race that drew $1.3 million in outside spending and even some Democratic mischief.

Republican voters also chose Mark Ronchetti to take on Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján for the open New Mexico Senate seat Democrat Tom Udall is vacating. Luján was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

And in the open 3rd District, Democrats nominated lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez in the race for the safe blue seat Luján has held for six terms.

Trump loyalty fight

The vast, rural 2nd District covers the southern half of the state and backed President Donald Trump by 10 points in 2016.

With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Herrell was leading with 46 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race. Chase had 30 percent, followed by Mathys with 23 percent. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Tilt Democratic.

Democratic outside groups spent $200,000 on ads and distributed mailers they said were opposed to both GOP candidates — but may have boosted Herrell by criticizing her loyalty to Trump. Some Democrats saw her as easier to beat because she lost to Torres Small in 2018.

Herrell and Chase began the race competing over who was most supportive of the president, but soon veered into personal attacks after the conservative Breitbart News unearthed Facebook posts from 2015 in which Chase used an obscenity to describe Trump and said she would not vote for him.

Chase responded by attempting to depict Herrell as the one with a loyalty problem, raising questions about whether Herrell had tried to rally support for Trump’s rivals during the 2016 presidential nominating contest. Chase also said Trump would not have been impeached had Herrell not lost in 2018.

Herrell later aired a television ad in which a blond Chase impersonator read the old Facebook posts in a Valley Girl voice. She also was alleged to have peddled rumors about Chase’s first marriage — charges Herrell vehemently denied.

Herrell trailed Chase in fundraising. She raised $820,000 and had $70,000 in the bank as of May 13. Chase, in contrast, brought in $1.3 million — $40,000 of which was self-funded — and had $200,000 on hand. Mathys raised $293,000 — with $276,000 of that self-funded — and had $15,000 in his coffers on May 13.

Herrell had slightly more outside support. House Freedom Fund, the campaign arm of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, and the tea party-associated House Freedom Action spent more than $437,000 to boost her. Outside groups spent more than $400,000 on Chase’s behalf, including $100,00 from Defending Main Street, which was founded to help establishment Republicans facing tea party challengers.

All-female delegation?

In the 3rd District covering northern New Mexico, Leger Fernandez beat six Democratic primary opponents, including Valerie Plame, the former CIA officer who was famously outed by a State Department official in the George W. Bush administration in 2003.

With 34 percent of precincts reporting, Leger Fernendez was leading Plame, 34 percent to 23 percent, when the AP called the race. State Rep. Joseph Sanchez was in third place with 20 percent.

While the Republican primary was yet to be called, Leger Fernandez will be the heavy favorite in November for a seat Hillary Clinton carried by 15 points in 2016. And with freshman Democrat Deb Haaland favored for a second term in the 1st District and two female major-party nominees in the 2nd, New Mexico is likely to have an all-female House delegation next year.

Leger Fernandez, a longtime lawyer for Native American tribes, touted her deep roots in the community. That biography served as a contrast to Plame, who moved to New Mexico in 2006 and attracted most of the national attention. Plame was also the top fundraiser, raking in $2 million through May 13.

Leger Fernandez raised $1.3 million, but she had coveted national endorsements from EMILY’s List and BOLD PAC, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

She was also the beneficiary of over $1.1 million in outside spending, support that attracted criticism from other candidates who called on her to disavow the entry of “dark money” in the race.

Inside Elections rates the 3rd District general election Solid Democratic.

Senate matchup set

A television weatherman, Ronchetti won a three-person Republican primary to take on Luján for the open Senate seat.

With 34 percent of precincts reporting, Ronchetti had 61 percent of the vote when the AP called the race.

Luján, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is favored in November. Hillary Clinton won the state by 8 points, and Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic.

But national Republicans told CQ Roll Call in recent weeks they think Ronchetti could pose a formidable challenge because he is well known in the state.