U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has decided to run for governor instead of seeking another term in Congress.
Pearce told county GOP chairs from around the state about his plans on Sunday evening. His team wouldn’t comment Sunday when asked by NMPolitics.net about his decision.
But Pearce confirmed his plans in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal published early Monday. Later Monday, he announced his campaign in a news release.
“I’m running for governor to change the direction of the state I love and call home,” Pearce said in the release. “New Mexico has such great potential, but we need leadership to move the state forward.”
“Too many people are struggling to find jobs and too many families are wrestling with poverty. Our kids are working their way through a broken education system. Crime has taken over our streets,” Pearce said. “We can do better. We have to do better.”
Democrats came out swinging, saying Pearce shares blame for the state’s plight.
“If Steve Pearce thinks he should be governor after voting against the interests of New Mexicans and supporting an extreme right-wing agenda, he should know he can’t fool voters,” said Democratic Party of New Mexico Chair Richard Ellenberg. “Pearce would push the same failed Republican economic agenda of the past seven years.”
“We’re going to hold him accountable for his failure to stand up for the community on health care, on policies that will drive job creation, and community efforts to protect our state’s public lands,” Ellenberg said.
Pearce is the first Republican to enter the race to replace outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez, who leaves office at the end of 2018. Currently four Democrats are in the race: U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, retired media executive Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque, and Peter DeBenedittis, an anti-alcohol advocate from Santa Fe.
Pearce’s decision opens up a seat in Congress that Democrats had already been targeting. Four Democrats have entered that race: David Baake, who once worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council; Las Cruces activist Ronald Fitzherbert; Socorro resident Madeleine Hildebrandt, a Coast Guard veteran and college history teacher; and Tony Martinez, co-leader of the Las Cruces Indivisible group.
Pearce has held the 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House since 2003 except for one term: Pearce opted in 2008 to run for U.S. Senate instead and Democrat Harry Teague won the House seat that year. After losing the Senate race, Pearce retook the House seat from Teague in 2010.
“It’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made in elected office,” Pearce was quoted by the Journal as saying about running for governor. “We could have pretty well cruised in the 2nd District, but at the end of the day, if New Mexico fails while we are getting some successes in D.C., then that’s a problem.”
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who lost the GOP U.S. House primary to Pearce in 2010, told the Roswell Daily Record he’s considering running for the congressional seat Pearce is vacating. “My wife and I have just been discussing the possibility, weighing the pros and the cons,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Several high-profile Republicans have been considering their options in 2018 and were said to be awaiting a decision by Pearce. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, who had said he might run for re-election, governor or Congress, were among them. Their next moves aren’t clear.
Following Pearce’s announcement, Dunn told NMPolitics.net he won’t run for governor, and is considering running for land commissioner, a seat on the Public Regulation Commission, or the U.S. House seat Pearce is vacating.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is up for-re-election next year. No big-name Republican has yet stepped up to challenge him.
Lujan Grisham is considered by many to be the favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary. A poll Pearce had conducted in May found Lujan Grisham leading Pearce 47-43 percent in a hypothetical contest, with 10 percent undecided.
Pearce had said for months that he was considering running for governor. In an interview with the Deming Headlight in June, Pearce, when asked about the possibility, said he had a willingness to collaborate with Democrats and was optimistic about the state’s future.
“Almost everything I see within our state is a management problem,” Pearce was quoted as saying. “Management is something I do very well. Business and management are two things that come naturally to me.”
“In the state if we can change the culture and lift us up,” the Headlight quoted Pearce as saying, “that’s something I would aspire to. But it’s not much worth trying if we can’t all agree that we want to fix education, fix the economy, and attack poverty at its core.”
This article has been updated.