New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district: an immigration election too

The economy dominates the campaign, but people also worry about the border

AN ANNUAL conference that brings together leaders from the states on both sides of the United States-Mexico border took place last month, but not quite as planned. The meeting was supposed to be held in Arizona but governors on the Mexican side took umbrage at that state’s recent and controversial law that cracks down on illegal immigrants. So New Mexico hosted the event instead.
The conference was watched closely in New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district, which stretches from the suburbs of Albuquerque to the Mexican border. In Las Cruces, the 2nd district’s biggest town, the press was still absorbing the details of the latest grisly murders in Juárez, just 45 miles away over the border.
Although the drugs violence is virtually all on the Mexican side, border issues are a big concern for New Mexico’s voters at the mid-terms. A poll in the Albuquerque Journal in September found strong opposition in the state to a law giving drivers’ licences to illegal immigrants. Nor is the worry limited to Anglos. Around half of New Mexico’s population (and of the 2nd district’s) is Hispanic; 67% of them object to the law (though they also object to Arizona’s crackdown by 48%-39%).
Steve Pearce is the Republican candidate in the 2nd. He recognises the “emotional” resonance of the border issue, though he stresses that job security is currently of far more importance to the electorate. Mr Pearce held the seat between 2002 and 2008 (he ran for senator that year, losing to Mark Udall). He would put more resources into securing the border, which he says affects all the district’s communities, and opposes any sort of worker “amnesty”, though he does not support a policy of rounding up illegal immigrants, whom he thinks should be treated humanely. Harry Teague, who won the seat for the Democrats in 2008, backs the proposed DREAM bill in Congress that would allow illegal immigrants who come to America as youngsters and are of good “moral character” to become residents.
Another issue in the district is energy and the stalled cap-and-trade bill, which Mr Teague supported but only after protections were added for small oil refineries. The oil and gas industry dominates the south-east corner of the district. The drive from Hobbs to Artesia passes along miles of nodding pumpjacks; oil trucks clog the road, and the air is heavy with the industrial odour of the refineries. Mr Pearce is a target for green groups, who accuse him of favouring “big oil”. He has studied the arguments for alternative energy and thinks environmentalists are ignoring the pragmatic aspects of the policies they push for. He does foresee some role for wind and solar power; but voters will not stand for higher utility bills and uncertain supply. Mr Pearce is not too bothered by the attacks on him by greens, pointing out that if they were that effective he wouldn’t have been elected to three terms previously.
The race is tight. A recent poll for the Hill, a newspaper about Congress, put Mr Pearce at 46% and Mr Teague at 42%. As this is one of many contests where the Republican is ahead but polling under 50%, the paper wondered whether the electoral tsunami often mentioned as likely to sweep the Democrats from power in the House might turn out to be only a ripple.


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