Yvette Herrell wants a second chance at beating Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and reclaiming the 2nd Congressional District for Republicans, and she says she has the momentum to do it.
Describing herself as a top-tier candidate and confident that former U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of Hobbs won’t step into the race, Herrell has been campaigning for the 2020 contest since January when she announced she’s running for a second time.
“I think there’s an opportunity for me to win this again,” Herrell told the News-Sun Thursday during an interview at the newspaper’s office. “I think that the voters are going to be paying closer attention. We know President Trump won this district by 10 points in the presidential race, so obviously that will help.
“I feel like I am a top-tier candidate, I understand the district, I bring with me the experience. And even though we didn’t win, we’ve still worked consistently for the constituency.”
Herrell ultimately lost the 2018 race to Torres Small by 3,722 votes. Herrell gave an apparent victory speech on election night in Alamogordo before more than 8,200 late absentee ballots from Doña Ana County tilted the race to Torres Small.
While Herrell may have lost the general election, she notes she won a competitive four-way GOP primary in 2018 with 49 percent of the votes and is racking up endorsements from key Republican lawmakers in the region, and on Capitol Hill.
“If I hadn’t of won so heavily in the primary and then in November, the way that turned out, I would know that perhaps I wasn’t right for New Mexico,” she said.
Last week, Herrell was endorsed by Jim Townsend, the Republican leader in the New Mexico House of Representatives, joining other key recent endorsements from U.S. House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and caucus member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
Herrell’s campaign on Thursday announced endorsements from a half dozen current and former Republican members of the New Mexico House: David Gallegos, R-Eunice, Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, Roswell, Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, and former state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell.
“New Mexico’s Second Congressional District needs a representative in Congress who will fight for our shared values and support our diverse economy,” they said in a statement in support of Herrell. “We need a champion of free market policies and practical solutions that encourage economic growth rather than stifling it. She is a proven leader and has always placed the value of people above politics. We know Yvette is the right candidate to win this race and we ask you to join us in supporting her for Congress.”
Herrell’s only known opponent in the GOP primary at this point is Republican Chris Mathys of Lac Cruces.
The big unknown has been Pearce of Hobbs. Pearce ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2008, foregoing re-election to the U.S. House, and came back two years later and reclaimed the seat from one-term Congressman Harry Teague of Hobbs, 55 to 45 percent.
Pearce has not definitively said whether he will run to reclaim his seat in 2020. Herrell, however, said she’s confident he won’t.
“I called Congressman Pearce before I announced. He knew last year with the margin being so very close on our race that we would be considering running again,” Herrell said. “I have no reason to believe that he would run for Congressional District 2.”
In a recent interview with the News-Sun, Mathys said the GOP blew the 2018 race, saying Herrell wouldn’t debate Torres Small, she didn’t engage the media enough and she simply got out-worked by Torres Small.
“I like Yvette, but frankly she wasn’t strong as our nominee. She wouldn’t debate anyone,” Mathys said. “Yvette, to be candid, she had her shot. Guess what, she didn’t make it and a lot of it had to do with just not being accessible and not working hard. I think voters need someone that’s going to work hard because if you work hard to get elected, you’re going to apply that same work ethic once you are elected.”
Herrell said she worked plenty hard to defeat Torres Small.
“I think we had a fantastic campaign, I worked my tail off,” Herrell said. “I’m very proud of our campaign. It was a tough race and we did very good considering we were out-raised by 3- to 4-to-1, basically. I’m very proud of what we did and I learned a lot, too, so I think that’s going to be helpful moving into the next race to kind of know what worked best, what didn’t, what we need to maybe change or do a little bit better on or not worry about doing at all. It’s a learning process, I can assure you. And it’s a fun process, but it’s tough, but it’s a lot to learn.”
Herrell, a four-term state lawmaker from Otero County, said she’s inclined to debate Torres Small in 2020. She said a televised debate didn’t materialize in 2018 because of scheduling conflicts and late preparations after early voting had started.
“Congresswoman Small and I had a number of times where we were together in forums that were debate-type setting, Deming, T or C, Carlsbad. We had opportunities. They weren’t televised, but we had excellent opportunities,” she said. “I don’t think a debate would have turned the election one way or the other, but in the future, absolutely that will be part of the strategy of course.”
Asked what she’ll do differently this campaign, Herrell said she has new consultants from New Mexico and she’s announced early, giving her more time to cover the district. She said she has momentum, raising more than $210,000 in the first quarter of 2019, with nearly $285,000 in cash on hand.
“I raised over $210,000 on our first campaign finance report for this year without any fundraising events, we didn’t have any any lunches or receptions,” she said. “It was literally me going and talking to people.”
Mathys’ campaign raised $76,000 in the first quarter, all of it a loan from the candidate himself.
Torres Small raised more than $444,000 in the first quarter, ending the quarter with over $518,000 in cash on hand.
Torres Small reported $4.8 million in campaign receipts in 2018, compared to $1.5 million for Herrell.
“Clearly, even coming up in this cycle, Democrats are going to out-raise Republicans,” Herrell said. “Even though we had a fantastic first report, Small had a better one. That’s just the way it is. It’s mind-boggling. I don’t know how they are so good at raising money the way they do, so we’ve just got to work smarter and do more with less.”
Asked what she would have done differently than Torres Small if she had won the race, Herrell said there are several things she would have approached differently in her first four months in Congress.
“I would not have voted for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. I would have supported President Trump’s wall. I would have supported the bill to fund his wall. I would not have voted to allow illegals to vote in our elections,” she said. “And I would not have voted against our 2nd Amendment. Those are just things I think of right off the bat.”
Herrell said Torres Small has already shown herself to be too liberal for the congressional district that had been held by a Democrat — Harry Teague of Hobbs — for only one two-year term since the district was created in 1983.
“I think when every sheriff in the district has opposed the 2nd Amendment bill that passed in New Mexico’s House and Senate and then Congress does a very similar (background check) bill, all but one sheriff in this district opposed the bill, and she voted for it,” Herrell said. “That’s not listening to our constituency.”
Herrell said Torres Small won’t acknowledge an illegal immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, while her party is pushing for an unrealistic end to all fossil fuel usage.
“Our guys down there literally cannot handle the amount of people,” Herrell said. “I’m not understanding how we’re going to implement this New Green Deal and the world ends in 12 years. I don’t feel like we have enough time. How do you even do that? That’s not even a realistic conversation.”
Herrell said she believes in free markets and American exceptionalism.
“There’s got to be, at some point in time, a very good separation between reality and make believe, and right now we’ve got to come back to the idea of getting back on track with the free market,” Herrell said. “We are finding buildings and facilities and high school gymnasiums and places to house people that are in our nation illegally, but we have a veterans homeless population on our streets who we have not given any attention to at all.”
Herrell said the influx of illegal immigrants seeking asylum is unsustainable.
“The border patrol does not have any control over what happens once these people are released,” Herrell said. “Now we have people being released into the country, to the state, that do not speak English, that do not have a sponsor here, do not have any money, do not have a skill in some cases. How are they going to survive in a foreign nation without speaking the language, not having the education, not having a sponsor?”
Herrell said half of New Mexicans are already on some form of public assistance.
“Why are we making Expo New Mexico available for these asylum seekers and yet we’ve got this amazing homeless population?” she asked. “We’ve to somehow figure out a way to slow the process down and give aid to the border patrol agents.
“America is the greatest country in the world. But it also has to be the smartest country in the world to be able to handle the humanitarian efforts that are at our front door, not to mention the aid that we’re sending to nations all over the world.”
Jeff Tucker can be reached at .