Herrell and Vasquez in a “Barnburner” Battle for NM’s Southern Congressional District

By Jack Boggs

New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District was dramatically re-drawn during redistricting in 2021, putting the formerly solid-Republican seat within Democrats’ reach.

The race was still a virtual tie in the final days before the election, with Democrat Gabriel Vasquez leading incumbent Republican Yvette Herrelll 48% to 47%, according to a recent poll conducted by Siena College. The 5.5 % margin of error means it’s truly a tossup. 

But the redrawn district has gone from one that favored Trump by 12 points to one that would have gone for Biden by 6. And Vasquez has a better favorability rating in the new district, 41-29%, compared to Herrelll’s 39-42%,” Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy said in a statement.

Herell has deep roots in the district. She was born in Ruidoso, went to high school in Cloudcroft and worked as a real estate agent in Alamogordo. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Herrell was the first Native American Republican woman elected to Congress.

On the job Herrell has continued to push for more oil and gas production, strict border policies, and fewer restrictions on forest and water use, positions that appeal to her conservative base.

She has been endorsed by organizations including the National Rifle Association, and U.S Senators Ted Cruz and Jim Demint.

But the Albuquerque Journal endorsed her opponent, in part because of her denial that Biden won the 2020 election and because she voted against a big package of fire relief funding. 

Vasquez, who grew up on both sides of the Mexican border, works in public relations for the conservation group Hispanics Enjoying Camping and the Outdoors (HECHO). He also served as a staffer for Sen. Martin Heinrich, as the executive director of the Las Cruces Hispano Chamber of Commerce. 

As a Las Cruces city councilor he consistently pushed for more police funding, although he was criticized for supporting the movement to defund the police, his actions in the city council negate that notion.

He has been endorsed by several labor groups, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. 

The campaign had no shortage or drama. Republican accused Vasquez of giving a false name to a TV interviewer during a protest and called for him to drop out of the race but the station took responsibility for the mis-communication, saying it was their fault the wrong name appeared under Vasquez’s face.

And Republicans have sued to have the lines redrawn, saying Democrats illegally gerrymandered it. 

“I think it was a very partisan result that deprived voters of like minds,” said Jim Paxton, the Sierra County Commissioner.  During redistricting, Democrats in the Legislature discarded the work of the advisory redistricting committee, taking Republican-heavy Roswell and most of Hobbs out of the district, and adding part of liberal-leaning Albuquerque to make the district easier to win, he said. 

The district now stretches from Southeast Albuquerque to the center of Hobbs, west to the Bootheel, northwest to Grants. It includes the Las Cruces metropolitan aread, but much of the district remains rural. 

With the new redrawn map of the district, some Republicans worry that conservative voices may be drowned out.

“The southern half of New Mexico is ranching, farming, oil, and gas,” Paxton said, “It has nothing to do with Albuquerque.”

But others say the result of the news maps has an upside. “All the districts have become more competitive,” said Mark Peceny, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico. 

But with greater competition comes more discord. A Pew Research report found growing partisan hostility between Republicans and Democrats. The report found that 72% of Republicans found Democrats more immoral, and 63% of Democrats say the same about Republicans.

The study also found that nearly half of young adults wish there were more parties to choose from.