RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican challenger Yvette Herrell have finally gone head-to-head in a televised debate in southern New Mexico’s closely watched U.S. House race after failing to debate during their 2018 contest.
During Sunday’s KOAT-TV/Albuquerque Journal-sponsored debate, Torres Small stressed “bipartisanship” and challenging her own party while Herrell tried to link the Democrat to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Herrell said she would be a “conservative voice” and pointed to her “Christian values” following a bruising GOP primary where she tried to portray herself as a stronger supporter for President Donald Trump than her two Republican opponents.
“I am unashamedly pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business and pro-family,” Herrell said.
Torres Small repeatedly highlighted her votes on oil and gas that bucked the Democratic Party’s positions. She brushed off Herrell’s criticism that she voted to impeach Trump and said she would vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden even though she disagrees with him on some energy policies.
“Common sense solutions don’t come with a party label,” Torres Small said.
Afters after the debate, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. House, circulated a Washington Examiner story that falsely said Torres Small was charged with driving without a license in Hobbs and had an outstanding bench warrant for four years. Super PACs are political action committees that can take unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, but they may not coordinate with the campaigns.
“Lying about her criminal history to voters. You can’t trust Xochitl Torres Small,” Congressional Leadership Fund spokesman Will Reinert said in an email.
But the Xochitl Torres cited in the story was born 10 years before the congresswoman and was a different person with the same name.
“The story did not meet the Washington Examiner’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled,” the conservative-leaning newspaper wrote Monday. “The Washington Examiner apologizes to our readers and to Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.”
The Torres Small campaign said Torres is a common name in the American Southwest. “It’s deeply disappointing that the same people who have been consistently pushing misleading claims in their TV ads did not take the time to determine whether they were talking about the correct person before pushing another false claim,” the campaign said.
The race is a rematch of the 2018 campaign, where Torres Small won by less than 4,000 votes and flipped the traditionally Republican-leaning district. However, Herrell avoided televised debates at the time and faced criticism for failing to campaign in heavily Hispanic areas.
Herrell has campaigned this time in Hispanic-majority Doña Ana County and has challenged Torres Small to multiple debates.
State numbers show that new GOP voter registrations outpaced Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District this election cycle by 10,000 — more than twice the margin of victory in 2018.
Herrell campaign manager Michael Horanburg said those numbers show there is “energy and momentum” among Republicans to recapture the seat.
The Torres Small campaign said the Las Cruces Democrat has worked with Republicans, Democrats, and President Donald Trump on various proposals and has cited support from some Republicans.
Republicans have challenged Torres Small over her voting record, though she has voted with Republicans on some issues like minimum wage and trade.
The sprawling 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 New Mexico, which is the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.