Steve Pearce’s Texas two-step backfired, bringing about a predictable response.
Pearce, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, is blaming voters instead of himself for another lopsided defeat.
Here’s the chronology of Pearce’s latest failure: A springtime special election was scheduled to fill the vacancy in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District. Rather than concentrating on the campaign, Pearce came up with the zany idea of moving the three-day New Mexico Republican Convention to Amarillo, Texas.
He called his maneuver Operation Freedom. It was supposed to be a dig at Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who ordered various shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pearce’s strategy turned into a gift for the opposition.
Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic candidate for Congress, campaigned in Albuquerque while Pearce and Republicans from Ohio and South Dakota exhorted New Mexico conventioneers in Texas.
Mark Moores, the affable Republican congressional nominee, was among those wasting words in Amarillo while Stansbury kept working in New Mexico.
Most people, including Pearce, knew a landslide was building. Stansbury trounced Moores: 60 percent to 36 percent.
Pearce didn’t lend his name to the Republicans’ official reaction, choosing to let an anonymous voice make excuses for him in a media handout.
“There were a number of reasons why Moores lost,” the Republican Party’s unknown author wrote. “Low voter turnout was a big factor. Republican voters were angry from 2020 — many questioned election integrity — and stayed home. Democrats also didn’t show up.”
That’s a lot of spin, even for Pearce.
Stansbury received 79,000 votes to 47,000 for Moores in an election right after Memorial Day.
In trying to shift the blame, Pearce indicts himself.
Why wasn’t he steadfast in New Mexico, working to get out the vote for Moores? Pearce answered the question with his feet. He preferred the applause of an echo chamber in Texas to the arduous work it would take to win a special election in New Mexico.
Pearce’s camp also made the weird claim Democrats “didn’t show up” to vote. If that were true, Republicans missed a remarkable opportunity to gain a seat in Congress.
The Republican Party’s fairy tale of a news release had one purpose only: to absolve Pearce of any blame for another high-profile defeat.
No Republican leader except former President Donald Trump makes more excuses for losing than Pearce.
Still, Pearce’s camp tried to close its statement with an upbeat sentence. “The party will be working hard to win key races in 2022, namely the governorship and this important Congressional seat.”
Lujan Grisham is running for reelection. No Republican has yet entered the governor’s race. The GOP’s bench is so shallow, Pearce might again receive the gubernatorial nomination by default.
He lost to Lujan Grisham in 2018 by 100,000 votes or 14 percentage points. The governor’s seat was open then, making Lujan Grisham’s victory all the more impressive.
Her record after one term is tarnished enough to create an opening for a Republican capable of connecting with moderates.
Lujan Grisham’s handling of the pandemic has angered many people, and that’s only one of her worries.
She has downplayed a claim against her of sexual harassment but paid more than nuisance rates to settle the complaint. Her tone-deaf distribution of hefty raises to favored state employees is another ready-made campaign issue.
The trouble for Republicans is they aren’t positioned to take advantage of Lujan Grisham’s weaknesses. Pearce hasn’t developed a roster of Republican candidates who can win statewide races.
Pearce himself is probably the New Mexico GOP’s best-known politician, but he’s lost both statewide races he’s run. A decade before being routed by Lujan Grisham, Pearce lost by 22 percentage points to Democrat Tom Udall in a U.S. Senate election.
Making matters worse for Republicans, Pearce showed no hesitation in antagonizing most New Mexico voters, who rejected Trump by a wide margin in 2020.
A week after Trump’s backers rioted at the U.S. Capitol, Pearce wrote this illogical tweet: “God bless president Donald J. Trump. He will be our president forever and no one can take that away from us.”
Pearce deleted the tweet. It won’t matter, as there’s no way to erase his mangling of history from memory banks.
Lujan Grisham can only hope for a rematch with Pearce. He’s more at home in the Texas Panhandle than in the heart of New Mexico.