RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — The race for a swing U.S. House seat in southern New Mexico has seen a commercial using a cheerleader voice to mock one candidate. One hopeful has accused another of spreading false infidelity rumors. Ads say a candidate attended a San Diego pinata party on the taxpayers’ dime. Candidates have accused each other of lying and secretly supporting the other side.
And that’s just among Republicans.
On Tuesday, GOP voters in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District will decide which Republican will challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in the general election.
Amid a divided Republican Party of New Mexico, oil executive Claire Chase, former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys are vying for the GOP nomination.
The primary campaign has been marred by personal attacks, dark money attack ads and claims over who is the most stalwart supporter of President Donald Trump.
Herrell and Chase and their supporters have exchanged the most punches, accusing each other of being a closeted “never Trumper.”
In one attack ad, a Tea Party-backed Super PAC had a woman in an exaggerated voice read Chase’s old Facebook posts attacking Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary campaign. The commercial has been called sexist by some for its depiction of Chase, who is blonde.
Chase responded with her own ad attacking Herrell for criticizing the White House and the GOP Congress during Trump’s first two years in office and for voting to raise taxes as a state lawmaker. A Super PAC also attacked Herrell for attending a San Diego “anti-Trump soiree,” where attendees allegedly took turns hitting a Trump pinata.
The Associated Press then obtained a text message exchange between Herrell and a conservative provocateur cartoonist that showed the former state lawmaker offered suggestions on a meme attacking Chase over her first marriage.
“The second Claire is spelled wrong,” Herrell texted back after receiving the meme. “It should say gold digging, not good digging.”
Mathys drew a sharp rebuke from the New Mexico GOP for making “intentionally false statements” about Herrell after he claimed she supported expanding abortion. A bill she sponsored sought more abortion restrictions.
Candidates have avoided offering any bold proposals to tackle poverty in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts and instead stuck to conservative, orthodox ideas like opposing abortion and promoting the oil and gas sector and construction of Trump’s border wall.
Last week, Herrell campaign manager Dakotah Parshall confirmed he moved to Kansas to be with family and manage the campaign of Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Parshall said he was still involved with Herrell’s campaign, but his role was unclear.
The nastiness of the GOP primary has worried some Republicans that the eventual winner will be bruised, battered and broke, and that it will be tough to defeat a well-funded Torres Small in the general election.
The Las Cruces Democrat, who had no primary opponent, has more than $3 million in campaign finance money available, and Democratic groups are vowing to offer more Super PAC support to her to try to ensure that the GOP-leaning seat remains under Democratic control.
The sprawling congressional district is home to a lucrative oil region but also has some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S.
The district has the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in the state.