Here's my take on tonight's debate. You can watch video from the debate HERE.
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 28, 2008
U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson at a televised debate Tuesday went on the offensive against U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, her opponent in the Republican senatorial primary, saying Pearce is too right-wing to win a general election.
“Statewide it’s extremely difficult for someone who is running as a far-right, cut-government, my-way-or-the-highway Republican to win,” Wilson said at the debate broadcast on KOAT-TV.
“In fact, we have never elected a Republican statewide who is from the far-right extreme of our party.”
Pearce, who represents the southern 2nd Congressional District, said Wilson is “too liberal to serve in New Mexico. ... I think the people of New Mexico want someone who will tell them where they stand and stand where they said they would.”
To which Wilson, who represents the central 1st Congressional District, responded, “It’s amazing to me that someone who is a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, strong supporter of free enterprise, cut-taxes, fair-regulation, pro-defense Republican is called a ‘liberal.’ And maybe that tells us just far out of the mainstream Steve Pearce is.”
Sometimes the rhetoric seemed so biting one easily could imagine seeing clips from the debate used against the Republican nominee in general election Democratic attack ads.
However, despite the intensity of their charges against each other, both candidates pledged to back whoever wins the GOP primary on June 3. The winner will face Democrat Tom Udall, Northern New Mexico’s congressman. The campaign will decide who replaces six-term Sen. Pete Domenici, who is retiring.
During the debate, Wilson nearly always was the first to turn questions against her opponent. Though Pearce got in a few licks, he seemed to be on the defensive for much of the hourlong debate.
Wilson frequently brought up the conservative organization Club For Growth, which is backing Pearce and running ads attacking Wilson as a “liberal.” The group has spent about $400,000 on the ads.
“The advertisements you’re seeing on television are funded by a small group of millionaires, none of whom are in the state of New Mexico who support an agenda that is contrary to the interests of the state of New Mexico in many respects,” she said. “They attack Republicans. They don’t go after Democrats ... and they have been responsible in several states recently for causing the nomination of Republicans who are so far right wing that they’re not able to win when it comes to a general election.”
She accused Pearce of requesting earmarks to fund programs such as a math and science recruitment plan for minorities at New Mexico State University, then voting against it when the Club For Growth tells him to.
Pearce said, “Heather, the Club For Growth is a respected group that measures waste, fraud and abuse in the government. It’s interesting they scored you at 10 percent. They scored Tom Udall at zero.”
Pearce in 2007 got an 82 percent vote from the group. “I don’t score perfectly because I really don’t ask them how I should vote,” he said. “I very rarely look at the recommendations. We simply try to do what’s right for the country. ... We’re going to continue to take the tough votes, the hard votes that will correct the problems of this country. Waste, fraud and abuse are rampant.”
Pearce said one of his main problems with Wilson is that she “tends to take both sides of an issue.” He said she initially did not support last year’s troop surge in Iraq, but then voted to support the surge.
As she has done in previous debates, Wilson stressed that Pearce represents a “safe Republican district,” while her district is much tougher on the GOP. She noted that she received more votes than President Bush in 2000 and in 2004 won her district while Bush lost there to John Kerry.
Pearce, however, noted that Wilson predecessor Steve Schiff never seemed to have the problems getting re-elected that Wilson has faced. He also noted that while she won re-election in 2006 by less than 900 votes, Republican State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons won Albuquerque by several thousand votes.
“I think Heather’s problems in this district are of her own making,” Pearce said.
Wilson spoke of “national special interest groups” spending millions of dollars over the past decade to defeat her. “Steve, you’ve never seen what that’s like,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re in for if the Republican Party is unfortunate enough to nominate you to be our candidate in November.”
Pearce said a strong conservative can win. “When we as conservatives fly the bold colors of conservatism we win. When we fly the pale pastels, we lose.”
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