July 10, 2017

Pearce announces he’s running for governor

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Congressman Steve Pearce speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011.Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore cc

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce announced Monday that he is running for governor.

Pearce becomes the first Republican to announce a run for the position and is taking his third crack at a statewide office after previously losing in two U.S. Senate races.

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A launch video highlights his time in New Mexico, since a child, and his pledge to help the state recover from its economic problems.

“My commitment is that I’ll work hard every day, bringing jobs back to the state, fixing a broken education system and relieving the poverty that we know is possible to relieve,” Pearce says in the video.

Pearce reiterated those points in a press call Monday afternoon.

He called it “heartbreaking” that New Mexico is at the bottom of so many lists and asserted that New Mexico has everything it needs to be successful but “we just need to manage it better.”

Management, and his business experience, is something Pearce touched on repeatedly, including when talking about education.

Pearce said he wanted to move decision-making closer to the district and classroom level.

“The closer we can get management discussions to the classroom, the better it will be,” he said, saying in his oil business he was able to do something similar.

Pearce said he would be different from Susana Martinez, who is also a Republican and cannot run for a third consecutive term. He cited his business background, contrasting it to Martinez’s law enforcement background as a district attorney.

Again, he said the management experience would be most helpful.

He also highlighted areas where he disagreed with President Donald Trump, a Republican who won the presidency while easily losing the state of New Mexico. Pearce supported Trump during the election while Martinez and some other New Mexico Republicans didn’t formally endorse him.

“If I think you’re wrong and you’re in office, I’ll tell you no matter what party you’re in,” Pearce said.

He referenced a meeting between Trump and the Freedom Caucus, a bloc of very conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives of which Pearce is a member, over the health care overhaul. At the time, the caucus opposed the effort, leaving Republicans without enough votes to pass the legislation.

Trump asked for the group’s support, but Pearce—who described himself as a leader of the group—told Trump, “‘Sir, with all due respect, I have 700,000 bosses, you don’t vote in New Mexico.’”

A different version of the bill passed the House, with the support of Pearce and other Freedom Caucus members.

Pearce also said he wouldn’t support a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would work in some areas but not in others.

No top-tier opponents?

It isn’t much of a surprise that Pearce would run. Many felt he would run for governor and he toured northern New Mexico earlier this year—an area well out of his congressional district.

Pearce seemed to expect not to have any top-tier opponents in the primary.

Pearce said only three Republicans had the name recognition to put on a credible run for governor: himself, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.

And Pearce said the three met to discuss their futures starting last December and agreed whichever of the three had the best shot at winning the governor’s race would run. Pearce said polling since then showed his position was the best.

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Still, he said, “We didn’t have signed contracts or anything” so Sanchez and Berry could still enter the race and other Republicans could opt to run.

Sanchez told him in a phone message this weekend that he’d announce his future plans soon, Pearce said on the call.

Four Democrats have announced their intention to run for the seat: U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, State Sen. Joe Cervantes, former Univision executive Jeff Apodaca and alcohol tax activist Peter DeBenedittis.

A poll from late May conducted by a pollster that has done work for Pearce in the past showed Michelle Lujan Grisham with a slight lead over Pearce.

Since Pearce and Lujan Grisham are both running for governor, their two U.S. Congress districts will be open seats in 2018.

The conservative Republican first won election to the U.S. House in 2002. In 2008 he gave up the seat to run an unsuccessful U.S. Senate race, but has held New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District seat since winning it back in the 2010 election.

In 2000, Pearce lost a U.S. Senate race to Jeff Bingaman and in 2008 to Tom Udall.

When asked what he learned from his previous two runs, he joked he learned that “I should not run in a landslide year.”

“If I had run two years later, we would have won by 10 points and it would have been a different direction,” Pearce said.

In 2008, all three U.S. Representatives in New Mexico ran for U.S. Senate, leaving three open seat races, which were all won by Democrats in a wave election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, a group tasked with electing Republicans to Congress, said they will keep the seat.

“New Mexico’s Second District is a seat President Trump won by double digits last year, and House Republicans are confident we will be able to keep this seat in our column,” NRCC chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement after Pearce’s announcement.

The 2nd Congressional District is the most conservative in the state. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 10.2 percent in the district last November, even as he lost the state. Mitt Romney defeated Obama in the district by 6.8 percent even while Barack Obama easily won the state as a whole in 2012.

Likely anticipating Pearce’s decision to run for governor, four Democrats have already announced they will run for the 2nd Congressional District seat. No Republican has announced their intention to run for that seat as of yet.

Update: Added information from Pearce’s afternoon press call throughout this story.

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