The Democrat’s House district is currently fertile ground for Republicans, but anything could happen between now and next November.
Analysts and political operatives are increasingly saying that House Democrats could face significant election losses in 2010. New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District is, in my view, one of the seats most likely to flip.
Pearce served three terms in the House, easily winning re-election in 2004 and 2006. He voluntarily gave up his seat last year to run for U.S. Senate — a race he lost badly because he’s too conservative to win a statewide race.
But Pearce’s politics do match those of many voters in the 2nd District, as evidenced by his easy victories in 2004 and 2006. It’s reasonable to suspect, in a congressional district in which John McCain defeated Barack Obama, that Pearce would have held on to the House seat last year if he and Teague had squared off.
Pearce may also be blessed with what’s shaping up to be an ideal climate in the 2nd District for a Republican candidate. It’s the home of the oil and gas industry that funds New Mexico’s state government and powers the economy. And many are furious with Teague for voting in favor of controversial cap-and-trade legislation earlier this year. He faced crowds of angry constituents after the vote.
That vote only added to the anger that had already started to steam when Teague supported the massive stimulus bill passed shortly after Obama — and Teague — took office.
With the first vote, fiscal conservatives in the district had their eyes on Teague. With the second, all the anger that was being directed at Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid shifted to Teague. In the eyes of many in the district, the Hobbs oilman, who characterizes himself as a small-town guy who’s more like his constituents than Washington politicians, began looking just like everyone else in Washington.
Pearce, meanwhile, is also a Hobbs oilman, and he’s one whose votes in Congress generally pleased the oil and gas industry.
Fertile ground for Republicans
The 2nd District is conservative. Before Teague it was represented by a Republican for 28 years. There has been some shifting to the left in the western side of the district in recent years — particularly in Las Cruces, the largest city in the district.
But, if history is any indication, the newly registered voters who helped Obama win Las Cruces in 2008 are less likely to vote in 2010 without a presidential battle at the top of the ticket. And there is evidence that the tea party movement is growing stronger in Las Cruces.
Teague has worked hard to develop a top-notch constituent services system, with five offices throughout the district. To his credit, he’s held more town-hall meetings this year than any other member of the state’s congressional delegation.
Because of that, he’s winning respect for being willing to listen. And, rather than getting on board with his party’s agenda, he’s taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach to the health-care reform debate that has taken a toll on the president’s approval rating in New Mexico and elsewhere.
But the district is currently fertile ground for Republicans, and the GOP knows it. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) jumped into this race early, with radio ads in July — a full 16 months before the election. Clearly, the GOP plans to spend big money in this district, viewing it as one of the best shots for a pickup in a year in which analysts say the GOP might pick up many seats.
Will Pearce be willing to spend his money?
One significant factor could help Teague. Though both men are rich, only Teague has shown that he’s willing to spend his own money to win an election. Last year, he pitched in $1.5 million during his primary and general election races.
Though Pearce will have the help of the NRCC, Teague is going to have the help of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If Pearce is unwilling to spend his own money, Teague might be able to level the playing field with a healthy infusion of cash from his personal coffers.
Anything could happen between now and November 2010 to change the climate in Washington and the 2nd District. Teague has plenty of time to make the case to his constituents that they should choose him over Pearce, and he’s working very hard to do that.
But if the election were held today, I suspect Teague would be in trouble.