In an era where campaigns are too loud and last too long, a stark exception exists in New Mexico.
The calm and quiet are bad signs for Democrats, usually the state’s dominant party.
No Democrat has stepped up to become a candidate for the seat held by Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell.
Herrell, a freshman who represents the 2nd District stretching across Southern New Mexico, should have plenty of potential Democratic challengers by now.
Her vote against establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is only the most recent reason.
“The House bill limited the Commission’s scope to just January 6th and no other days or events leading up to it,” Herrell wrote of her opposition to an essential investigation.
With her clumsy attempt at spin, Herrell alluded to a previous vote in which she objected to certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president. She embraced then-President Donald Trump’s baseless charges that the election was stolen from him.
Herrell herself claimed without any evidence that she was similarly victimized when she lost the 2018 congressional election. In truth, Herrell blundered by declaring victory with thousands of votes still to be counted. She lost to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small by 3,700 votes.
After her defeat, Herrell said Democrats had cheated, but she didn’t contest the election. Doing so would have required her to provide evidence, not just whiny sound bites about fraud.
Herrell rebounded to unseat Torres Small in November, winning by almost 20,000 votes.
The irony was Trump lost New Mexico badly, but he carried the 2nd Congressional District by a decisive 12 percentage points. Trump’s strength in the southern part of the state provided long coattails for Herrell.
Torres Small hasn’t said whether she will run against Herrell for a third time. Her silence is the reason no Democrat has filed as a candidate for the congressional seat.
If Torres Small enters the race, the Democratic nomination is hers for the taking. But if she finally says she’s not running, the field of Democrats seeking the congressional seat will balloon to at least a half-dozen candidates.
The primary election is a year away — long if you’re not running, brief if you are. Any Democratic newcomer would need every minute to mount an effective campaign against Herrell.
Aside from Torres Small, the two Democrats with the highest visibility in the 2nd District aren’t considering a congressional campaign.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales of Silver City is running for reelection. State Sen. Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces told me he isn’t planning to seek the congressional seat.
Morales said Torres Small has a good policy record to run on, including obtaining federal funding to save the medical center in his hometown.
Torres Small, though, ran a listless campaign in 2020. She feared Trump’s popularity in the 2nd District and did little to differentiate herself from Herrell.
At one stage, Herrell and Torres Small even released dueling advertisements showing them shooting pistols or long guns at targets.
When Torres Small wasn’t wasting money and airtime on gunfire, her overriding claim was political parties don’t matter to New Mexicans. Torres Small’s statement made no sense with a polarizing Republican president in office.
Herrell seemed more comfortable than Torres Small in making sure not to antagonize Trump. She had been practicing for months. During a contested Republican primary, Herrell and her main opponent each professed to be more devoted to Trump than the other.
Torres Small, who had worked on the staff of Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall before becoming an attorney, wasn’t herself in the last congressional campaign. The packaging of a candidate in an attempt to comport with polling trends seldom excites voters, and it didn’t work for Torres Small.
Still, if she sits out the race, Democrats might not be able to find a name candidate to challenge Herrell. And the longer the Democrats have to sit and wait for Torres Small’s decision, the less likely it becomes that a lesser known candidate can catch fire in a district Republicans have dominated for 40 years.
The clock is ticking for Democrats. Despite Herrell’s failings, especially her unwillingness to support an honest inquiry into the violence that rocked the Capitol and shook the country, she’s getting stronger by the day.