New Mexico swing-district debate hinges on oil, border

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — GOP congressional challenger Yvette Herrell embraced President Donald Trump's border-wall strategy and burnished an anti-abortion, pro-petroleum philosophy in a bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small during a televised debate.

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“I'm proud to stand with President Trump on securing our southern border," Herrell, a former state legislator, said during the Wednesday night face-off.

Battling to win a second term in the 2nd Congressional District — a swing district that includes an oil-producing region along the border with Mexico — Torres Small voiced no criticism of Trump and cast herself as a pragmatist who has focused on high-tech drug enforcement at ports of entry and opposed efforts in Congress to ban fracking for oil.

The congresswoman and water lawyer noted that she has earned the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association — touching on controversial praise by the petroleum trade group.

The half-hour encounter — with both candidates in the television studio — took place in the minutes leading up to Wednesday's vice presidential debate.

Herrell repeatedly attempted to draw parallels between her opponent and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Torres Small has broken with House Democrats on multiple occasions — including two votes against the new pandemic recovery package that she says was too broad.

Both candidates voiced support for a new recovery deal, with Torres Small emphasizing the need for a second round of paycheck protection subsidies, loan forgiveness, support for rural hospitals and resources to amplify virus testing.

Herrell said she too supports an extension of supplementary unemployment benefits, though at a lower rate than the initial $600 weekly boost that she says hindered motivation to return to work.

Debate moderator Chris Ramirez pushed the candidates to say whether the country should move away from fossil fuels — yes or no.

“When it comes to diversifying our energy portfolio, I think we need to do that with everyone at the table,” Torres Small said.

Herrell was direct: “No, it's not a great idea.”

The congressional race is a rematch from 2018, when Herrell declined to debate and lost by fewer than 4,000 votes in her push to seize the seat left open by seven-term Republican Rep. Steve Pearce as he ran unsuccessfully for governor.

The 2nd Congressional District is home to a lucrative oil region but also has some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S. The region has the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in New Mexico — the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.

Torres Small voted in favor of impeaching Trump, who won the district in 2016.

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This story has been corrected to say the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association praised Torres Small but has not endorsed her candidacy.