The playing fields are set for many 2012 U.S. House and Senate races across the nation, but the dynamics might still change dramatically in the 1st and 2nd congressional district races in New Mexico.
Jon Barela, the Republican Party’s 2010 nominee for the Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District seat, confirmed Friday that he’s still considering making another attempt at winning the seat next year.
And former State Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, confirmed Friday that he’s seriously considering running against U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican who represents the Southern New Mexico 2nd Congressional District. Steinborn said that’s not the only race he’s looking at.
The entrance of either into a congressional race would reshape that contest.
A lackluster CD1 GOP primary
The most recent finance reports revealed competitive Democratic and Republican primaries in the race for the open 1st District seat – but on the Republican side, many are unhappy with their choices. Janice Arnold-Jones ended the last quarter with just under $25,000 in the bank, while Dan Lewis had more than $82,000. Neither toped $50,000 in fundraising during the last quarter – which some say is a sign that donors are waiting to see what Barela does or are hoping for another strong candidate to enter the race.
During a visit to Las Cruces, Barela, the state’s economic development secretary, said Friday he’s still “very much looking at” the 1st District race but said he’s waiting to see what redistricting does to the makeup of the district. That process is currently in the courts.
In the meantime, Barela said he’s “laser-focused” on his current job and won’t be distracted from it, but he acknowledged that many are encouraging him to run for Congress.
“I’m humbled by the ongoing support and encouragement of those who are urging me to get into the race,” Barela said.
Barela would likely be able to raise money quickly and possibly establish himself as the frontrunner in the GOP primary if he decided to run. Until he decides whether to do that, the race remains fluid. Arnold-Jones and Lewis won’t go down without a fight. Lewis has already hired Barela’s 2010 finance director to fill that job for his campaign.
A serious challenge for Pearce?
Meanwhile, Pearce currently isn’t facing a serious challenge. Though two Democrats are launching long-shot bids to unseat him – Evelyn Madrid Erhard and Frank McKinnon – neither had reached the $5,000 fundraising limit by Sept. 30 that required the filing of an FEC report.
The race would change dramatically if Steinborn runs.
“At this point in time I am looking at that, as well as other options,” Steinborn said. “Steve Pearce is, without question, one of the worst congressmen in America, and a person who has continually put his own interests and his political interests above the interests of our country. It’s time that he goes.”
Steinborn, who lost his re-election bid for his state House seat last year, has a strong and active base in Las Cruces. Many doubt a Democrat has a shot against Pearce next year, but Steinborn isn’t one of them.
“As we’ve seen the last several elections, anything can happen,” he said. “I think when politicians start pigeonholing citizens, saying they’re only going to vote this way, they’re only going to vote that way, that doesn’t give them enough credit.”
“So-called safe seats have changed parties all across America when voters think we need change. I believe this is one of those years,” Steinborn said. “Steve Pearce has brought special distinction to himself through his extreme and destructive behavior as a congressman, and I think voters can see that. It is especially time for a change here.”
“Whether you’re part of the tea party or part of the 99 percent – wherever you fall on that spectrum – people are ready for change,” he said. “They’re ready for Washington to start dealing with the biggest problems in this country in a bipartisan way.”
Steinborn ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004, before he was elected to the state Legislature, so he’s familiar with the district. He said he’s committed to making sure Pearce is defeated, even if he’s not the candidate challenging Pearce.
He said he’s also looking at running for a seat in the state Legislature and waiting to see how redistricting affects things.
“There’s a range of things being looked at, and, candidly, I’ve gotten a fair amount of encouragement from different quarters for various offices,” Steinborn said.
Pearce’s last finance report showed that he had more than $433,000 on hand on Sept. 30.