U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, whose term in Congress ends in January, has anounced his candidacy for chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, while not ruling out the possibility that he could run in two years for the congressional seat he forfeited to run for governor.
If elected by the Republican Party’s State Central Committee on Dec. 8, Pearce would serve a two-year term as chairman of the state GOP. Earlier this month, Pearce lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“When I looked at it, probably nobody has spent more time in the last few years working the entire state. I know every county and I know the people who are active in those,” Pearce, R-Hobbs, told the News-Sun Tuesday. “So for me, it made a lot of sense if we’re to rebound from this loss last time that we need to start right away. We can’t bring in somebody that has to go out and travel to the counties. I’m not ruling anything out in the future, but in this two-year period, I thought that we needed to help get the party organized and back on its feet. It’s struggling in a couple of places.”
Throughout the 2018 election season, Pearce was seen by many Republicans as the de facto head of state GOP, frequently appearing on TV in campaign commercials paid for by both Democrats and Republicans.
Pearce said he is seeking the chairmanship of the Republican Party not for the title, but instead for the opportunity to help create a new beginning for the Republican Party of New Mexico and a path to prosperity for the state. He said he’s met with people from all walks of life in every corner of the state while campaigning for governor the past two years.
“It just seemed to fit for me,” he said of the state party chairmanship. “Again, I know the issues, I know the people, I know each one of the counties. So we’re going to do it. I’ve been working, making the calls, asking for support from people on the central committee. I don’t take anything for granted. I feel very good about it, but we’re going to work just as hard as we always do.”
The Republican Party of New Mexico, the primary advocate and support organization for Republican candidates and voters in New Mexico, is governed by an approximately 500-member State Central Committee, elected by fellow Republicans from across the state. The election for chairman and the other RPNM officers will be held at the Marriott Pyramid of Albuquerque on Dec. 8.
Pearce said he has spoken with Ryan Cangiolosi, the current chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico, about his interest in leading the state party.
“He’s not running again, so he’s happy to help us and he would transition into an advisory role for us, which would be very good. Again, we feel very comfortable with the process,” Pearce said. “He said that he needed to move on, he’s still making a living. He was welcoming the idea that I would step into it. So again, it was a very congenial conversation. I wouldn’t have felt the need to run if he were going to do it. He’s done a good job. I would have been supportive of him, but he just felt like he couldn’t continue.”
Pearce said he will face John Rockwell of Albuquerque for state party chairman at the Dec. 8 State Central Committee meeting. Rockwell ran unsuccessfully for state party chair in 2012.
“He and I have talked. I think it’s going to be a congenial race,” Pearce said. “I told him I’m not running against you, I’m just running with my ideas about what I bring to the table.”
Asked if he is contemplating running for his congressional seat in two years, with the eye of reclaiming it from a Democrat as he did in 2010 after running unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2008, Pearce said it’s “a little bit early yet” to discuss.
“The National Republican Congressional Committee, they’ll probably come in in February or March and do some polls, begin to see what it’s going to take to win the seat back,” Pearce said. “That’s what happened last time. I really didn’t go out seeking it, they came to me and asked me if I would run again. So we’ll let them just do the calculations and we’ll talk to (2018 Republican nominee) Yvette (Herrell) and other people who might be interested as we move forward. We’ll just make a decision on that when the time comes. I just don’t know right now.”
With Democrats controlling both houses of the state Legislature and the executive branch in January, Pearce said there’s a lot of work ahead for New Mexico Republicans. Pearce said total party control, such as he’s seen with the Republican Party in Washington, D.C., can pose electoral problems.
“When you get all of the positions aligned, then your party begins to push you harder and harder to do things that maybe don’t resonate with the full public,” Pearce said. “So that’s something we’ll be watching for and we’ll be talking about it if (Democrats) do go too far.
“The political pendulum swings back and forth, so Trump got elected and it was kind of a pendulum swing against President Obama. And then this midterm, we gained seats in the Senate, so it wasn’t a blue wave, but in the House, the House is a lot more mercurial than the Senate, so we lost seats there because that political pendulum will swing back and forth. Sometimes political parties move faster than the public in general, and the public will respond in the next election.”
Pearce, in his first interview with the News-Sun since the Nov. 6 election, said Tuesday he was thankful for the seven two-year terms he served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing southern New Mexico.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity to serve in Congress and represent the 2nd District,” he said. “I just want to say a big thank you to the people of the 2nd District as I move into this next phase.”