After eight months in the state Senate, Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill is considering a campaign for Congress in New Mexico’s only Republican district.
“What I can say, for transparency, is I am exploring it,” Correa Hemphill said in an interview.
Democrats so far do not have any announced candidates in the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches across the southern half of New Mexico.
Correa Hemphill, 49, of Silver City says she was approached about running by Democrats at the state and national level. She would not be more specific.
Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo is the incumbent congresswoman in the 2nd District. Herrell last year ousted Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who served a single two-year term.
Republicans usually are the underdogs in New Mexico. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, most statewide offices and four of New Mexico’s five seats in Congress.
The exception is the 2nd Congressional District. Republicans have held that seat for 36 of the last 40 years.
Rarely have Democrats run strong campaigns in the 2nd District. The only two times they won it during that four-decade stretch were when the seat was open.
As the incumbent, Herrell will be favored in the 2022 election. Still, she’s given Democrats reasons to hope an upset is possible.
Herrell’s first act in Congress was to oppose certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, though he won New Mexico and the national race by wide margins. She also voted against establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the defeated president, Donald Trump.
Herrell believes her devotion to Trump can only help her. Trump carried the 2nd District by 12 percentage points last year. His performance benefited Herrell, who easily defeated Torres Small after losing to her in 2018.
Money will also flow to Herrell. She had almost $700,000 in her campaign account as summer began, according to her last filing with the Federal Election Commission. Conservative groups will spend more to help her, as Republicans try to retake the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democrats now control the chamber 220 to 212. Three seats are vacant.
Correa Hemphill is new to politics, though she made an immediate splash last year.
Liberals urged Correa Hemphill to run for the seat in state Senate District 28, which was represented by conservative Democrat Gabriel Ramos, an incumbent by appointment. Ramos had angered liberal members of his party by voting to keep a 1969 law criminalizing abortion on the books.
Correa Hemphill proved to be an effective campaigner. She ousted Ramos in the Democratic primary. Ramos responded by throwing his support behind Republican Jimbo Williams, her opponent in the general election.
Wiillams ran a mud-slinging campaign against Correa Hemphill, a school psychologist. He falsely claimed Correa Hemphill collected paid leave from the Silver Consolidated School District while working at another job.
The Republican Party ran other ads blaming Correa Hemphill for a mine closure that occurred when she was 10 years old.
She defeated Williams in a close race. Serving in the Senate, Correa Hemphill said, is more fun than campaigning for the office.
She received an appointment to the Finance Committee, a rarity for a freshman senator. The ugliness of Williams’ campaign against her didn’t sour Correa Hemphill on working with Republicans.
She co-sponsored with Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, a bill that can funnel more public money to large-scale community economic development projects. She also teamed with Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, on a bill funding an ombudsman to help rural and frontier communities navigate state government.
Both measures were signed into law by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Still, Correa Hemphill knows she would be open to attacks if she runs for Congress.
She filed for bankruptcy in 2004, when her son, Nicholas, then 4 years old, was diagnosed with bone cancer and his left leg was amputated. Nicholas has Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, a genetic disorder.
Supporters of Ramos criticized Correa Hemphill because she used to be a Republican, something she could expect more of in a congressional campaign.
“I didn’t know a lot about politics when I was in my 20s,” Correa Hemphill once told me of her time as a Republican. “I had a child with special needs in 1996, and I started to shift my worldview after that.”
She and her husband still have two children in school. They are 8 and 14.
Couple family responsibilities with the lack of efficient air travel from Silver City to Washington, and the challenges of her serving in Congress mount.
Correa Hemphill said she has meetings this week about the prospect of a congressional campaign.
“I haven’t really given myself a firm deadline to decide. The decision will become clearer soon enough,” she said.
If Correa Hempill decides to run, Democrats might end their hunt for a candidate in Silver City. The last thing party honchos want is a money-draining primary while Herrell sits on the sideline, collecting more cash.