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New Mexico congresswoman seeks to defend GOP foothold

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell vied for a second term in office Tuesday on a conservative platform of strict border security and unfettered support for the oil industry, in a congressional district that stretches from the U.S. border with Mexico across desert oilfields and portions of Albuquerque.

Democratic nominee Gabe Vasquez campaigned to flip the majority-Hispanic district on support for more equitable access to economic opportunity, a humanitarian approach to immigration and greater accountability for climate change in a major energy production region.

Vasquez, a former Las Cruces city councilor, also emphasized his Hispanic heritage and an upbringing along the border in a working-class, immigrant family.

A victory by Herrell in New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District would preserve a Republican foothold in a state where Democrats have otherwise dominated elections for federal and statewide offices.

Herrell was among three first-term congresswomen seeking reelection as New Mexico's House delegation in newly redrawn districts that divvy up the politically conservative southeastern corner of the state — a premier U.S. production zone for petroleum. Legal proceedings are pending that could reverse the redistricting plan adopted by Democratic state legislators after the Nov. 8 election.

Herrell, a former state legislator, real estate agent and Alamogordo resident, voted against certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory and campaigned in New Mexico alongside staunchly conservative congressional and Senate colleagues, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The 2nd District still includes portions of the oil-rich Permian Basin, and Herrell cast herself as an unwavering advocate for the oil and natural gas industry as a bedrock of energy independence from foreign imports and as a source of local government income.

She has criticized the Biden administration for scrapping work on the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline and supporting Republican-backed legislation to prevent the administration from imposing a moratorium on new drilling permits on federal lands.

Herrell and Vasquez both cast their opponents as extremists in ads that highlight Herrell's denial that Biden was legitimately elected president and past activism by Vasquez for social justice causes in since-deleted social media posts and TV footage of the candidate as a masked street protester.

Vasquez has voiced support for core Democratic initiatives in Washington on infrastructure spending to speed the transition to renewable energy, raise the U.S. minimum wage and write abortion protections into federal law.

Herrell has voiced support for banning abortion with limited exceptions and said she supports the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson decision that allows state governments to determine access to abortion. New Mexico allows access to most abortion procedures.

In New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury campaigned on her support for abortion access, solutions to climate change and her initial success at bringing home federal infrastructure spending to a district that includes most of Albuquerque and rural areas as far as Roswell.

Stansbury won a special election in 2021 to succeed Deb Haaland after her appointment as secretary of the Interior Department. First District challenger and former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes highlighted public safety concerns in her second bid for the seat, after a failed 2020 campaign against Haaland and losing a bid for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Also seeking reelection, Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez campaigned largely on her handling of accountability and federal relief efforts related to a massive wildfire this year that raged across more than 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) of rural northern New Mexico, destroying hundreds of homes and water-supply systems.

The inferno within the 3rd Congressional District was traced to prescribed burns by the U.S. Forest Service that were supposed to reduce flammable undergrowth but escaped control under extremely dry, windy conditions. The Forest Service is overhauling protocols for prescribed burning, while a federal spending bill approved in September includes $2.5 billion in relief for New Mexico.

Republican challenger Alexis Martinez Johnson is an environmental engineer. She also ran for the district in 2020 as the GOP nominee and lost.