This article has been updated and is continuing to be updated as the news develops.
Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson formally entered the race to replace Democrat Jeff Bingaman in the Senate today during an event that was clearly designed to discourage other Republicans from challenging Wilson for the party’s nomination.
“I am a candidate for the United State Senate,” Wilson said, adding that she is running because she is “deeply concerned about the future of our economy.”
“The first thing we have to do is get our financial house in order,” Wilson said. “Washington just does not get it. … Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot borrow our way to prosperity.”
Wilson also talked about national security, health care, and the importance of families.
A number of high-profile Republicans joined Wilson at her announcement in Albuquerque. They included former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, former U.S. Reps. Bill Redmond and Manuel Lujan, and former GOP gubernatorial candidates Allen Weh, Pete Domenici Jr. and Janice Arnold-Jones.
‘The only candidate who can beat the Democrat’
Wilson was also joined by former land commissioner candidate Matt Rush, who talked to the crowd about the importance of Republicans getting behind one candidate in the Senate race. He said Wilson is “the only candidate who can beat the Democrat.”
The event was clearly designed to include a number of heavy-hitters who would emphasize Rush’s plea.
“I wholeheartedly endorse Heather Wilson as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate,” Domenici told the crowd present for Wilson’s announcement. “… She is the best candidate.”
Redmond, whose endorsement helps Wilson among social conservatives, agreed.
“Heather is a person of faith and conviction, well-aligned with our conservative values,” he said. “… Heather and Heather alone is qualified to understand the crisis that’s before us as an American people.”
Lujan talked about what’s at stake for Republicans if they don’t get behind one candidate, and referred to the divisive 2008 U.S. Senate primary battle between Wilson and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce. Ultimately, in 2008 Republicans went from holding three of five of New Mexico’s seats in Washington to holding none.
“We lost all our seats last time,” Lujan said.
Wilson opened her speech by recognizing those present and talking about New Mexico lawmakers who couldn’t attend her announcement because the Legislature is in session. She said almost half of the Republicans in the N.M. House and Senate “are endorsing me today.”
Status of the race
Wilson represented the Albuquerque-area First Congressional District in Washington from 1998 to 2009, earning a reputation as a moderate – Wilson uses the term “commonsense conservative” – and a major player on some high-profile issues. As an Air Force veteran, she focused much of her time in the U.S. House on national security issues.
In 2008, she gave up her House seat to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Domenici. She lost the GOP primary that year to Pearce, who went on to lose in the general election to Democrat Tom Udall. Pearce was recently re-elected to his old House seat.
Two less-known Republicans have also entered the U.S. Senate race – Greg Sowards and William S. English. In addition, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is seriously considering running, and Pearce says he’s also thinking about running.
No Democrats have entered the race.
Treating Wilson like the frontrunner
Democrats are already hammering Wilson and treating her like the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has sent e-mail after e-mail to the media about Wilson and is highlighting national attention for a video it’s promoting.
“For years, Heather Wilson was part of the problem in Washington, and now she wants to be sent back,” DSCC Communications Director Eric Schultz said in a news release. “Last time around, New Mexico primary voters rejected her, and turns out they had good reason to.”
Domenici and Wilson separately called Iglesias in October 2006. Iglesias claims they called to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation involving a high-ranking Democrat. Wilson says she didn’t call to discuss any specific case or person and did not discuss a case involving that high-ranking Democrat, Manny Aragon, with Iglesias.
At the time, Wilson was in a tough re-election battle for her House seat that she ended up winning by fewer than 1,000 votes out of about 211,000 cast.
Iglesias has alleged that Domenici and Wilson pressured him to speed indictments against Aragon, a former state Senate president, and others involved in the case in an attempt to sway voters, a charge both deny. Days after the election, Iglesias was fired.
Last year, a criminal investigation ended without Domenici or any others being charged. Wilson, who has said the Justice Department “badly mishandled” Iglesias’ firing, was not a target of that investigation, and the House Ethics Committee decided against launching a formal investigation into her role in the situation after conducting an informal review.
Still, Javier Gonzales, chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, referenced the U.S. attorney scandal in a prepared statement:
“New Mexico voters will not soon forget the image of a desperate Heather Wilson trying to influence a federal investigation to benefit her campaign in 2006,” he said. “That’s the kind of politics you get with Heather Wilson and it’s the wrong kind of politics for New Mexico.”
A long list of endorsements
In a news release announcing her candidacy, Wilson included endorsement statements from dozens of current and former New Mexico elected officials. Among them were a number of high-profile conservatives from around the state.
It appeared to be an intentional response to Republicans who say Wilson isn’t conservative enough to be the party’s nominee.
“I believe Heather Wilson is the right person for New Mexico,” said Bloomfield Mayor and San Juan County Commissioner Scott Eckstein. “I believe she can win and she will represent us well.”
State Sen. Clinton Harden of Clovis pointed to his past service with Wilson in the administration of former Gov. Gary Johnson.
“She showed a real talent for getting the waste out of government while making sure it worked well for citizens,” he said. “I’m proud to endorse her and call her my friend.”
State Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs called Wilson “a solid leader who understands the concerns of New Mexicans.” State Sen. Bill Burt of Alamogordo said Wilson “will be the perfect new senator for New Mexico.”