For Republican Yvette Herrell, the 2018 campaign for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District never really ended.
Herrell, former New Mexico state representative from Alamogordo, was her party’s nominee in the race for the U.S. House seat in the district that encompasses most of southern New Mexico. After she narrowly lost the race to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, she announced in January that she will again run for the seat.
Initially, on election night, Herrell was thought to be the winner of the race. News organizations declared her the winner that night and she even gave a victory speech. However, she soon received a call from the New Mexico Secretary of State who said an additional 4,000 absentee ballots were found in Dona Ana County. Later, another 4,000 ballots were found.
The New Mexico Secretary of State eventually declared Torres Small – a water rights attorney and former field representative to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall – the winner.
The outcome is something Herrell said came as a surprise to many people.
“I think we all went to bed on Tuesday night thinking we had won this election, this seat, and woke up to something very different,” Herrell said in an interview May 17 during a visit to Roswell.
Herrell is now back on the campaign trail.
“Really what we’re about is working hard. Let’s see what is right for New Mexico and let’s continue to put New Mexicans first and get back and continue the good fight, and keep the momentum going,” she said of her campaign.
Herrell added she believes backlash against what is going on in New Mexico at the state level and the fact President Donald Trump will be on the ballot, will likely drive conservative voter turnout in 2020.
“I say this all the time: It matters who is making the decisions for us on any level of government and I think we are going to see a much more enthusiastic turnout in the district, and quite frankly, most likely in the state,” she said.
Before she can go onto the general election, Herrell will first have to convince Republican voters she can win back the seat for the party.
Her experience as a state lawmaker has been backed by the National Rifle Association and the House Freedom Caucus and some of her former legislative colleagues such as state Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, and her high name recognition show she is the right candidate.
“I bring the experience to the table. I know the district, I know the voters,” she said.
Chris Mathys, a real estate broker from Las Cruces, is already challenging Herrell for the nomination. He said Herrell’s performance as a candidate cost Republicans the seat, and criticized her for not taking part in a series of televised debates during the general election campaign.
In the last months of the campaign, Herrell had been invited to take part in a series of televised debate forums with Torres Small. She ultimately declined to take part in them, citing scheduling conflicts. She added that the debates were scheduled for late in the election cycle, after many people had already voted by absentee ballot or early voting.
If she is again the Republican standard bearer, Herrell said she will debate Torres Small.
“We will definitely be debating in this election after we win the primary, we will certainly be debating, but we will also ask that those debates be done much earlier in the season,” Herrell said.
Herrell added she had taken part in a number of debate forums with Torres Small that were not televised, such as events in Deming and Carlsbad.
Mathys, in an April visit to Roswell, also characterized his campaign as more grassroots. Fundraising reports from the Federal Election Commission from Jan. 1 to late March show that Herrell raised $284,985, while Mathys during that same period gave $76,000 to his own campaign.
Herrell said that nearly all of her campaign contributions came from New Mexicans and from individual donors within the district.
Herrell in 2018 ran as a steadfast supporter of President Donald Trump, and she said that she backs his calls to build a wall along the southern border and secure the southern border.
“I am for immigration to this country, but it has to be done legally,” she said.
An influx of asylum seekers from South American countries and illegal border crossings have strained the resources of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, law enforcement and communities along the border.
“We are putting our entire state and our nation in harm’s way by virtue of what is coming across the border,” Herrell said.
She said that while some of the people presenting themselves are genuinely seeking asylum, but that she believes many do not qualify for asylum.
Though she worries it could set a precedent for future administrations to take similar actions on issues such as climate change and gun control, Herrell said she supports Trump’s use of a declaration of national emergency to address the situation on the border.
The declaration would allow Trump to shift money from some military infrastructure projects and federal agencies to be used to build a wall on the southern border without authorization from Congress.
Herrell said the situation on the border requires that action be taken to secure the borders that are taking up state and federal resources.
“We are not in a position to sustain that type of influx of people, whether it is in New Mexico or it is in other parts of the country,” she said.
Other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have voiced worry that the declaration could mean money is diverted from the upkeep of military infrastructure within the state.
Herrell said she does not know where the money will come from, but that the investment in securing the border is needed.
“We’ve got to protect our border,” she said.
In addition to constructing a physical barrier, she said more Border Patrol agents, placing the National Guard on the border and greater use of technology can all help address the situation on the border.
The trade war between China and the U.S. is something Herrell said she is not too worried about.
Trump has raised tariffs on Chinese imports in an effort to address what he and supporters say is unfair trade practices. China has responded by slapping more tariffs on U.S. goods.
She said she thinks Trump understands the importance of making trade agreements more fair for the U.S.
“And I trust what this administration is doing,” Herrell said.
Some industries might feel a negative impact from the tariffs, but said that she has spoken to businesses in the district and thinks that they are willing to absorb some of the pain in the short term if it leads to fairer trade deals in the long term for the United States.
“I think, by and large, Americans will understand this is a good thing for America,” Herrell said.
Herrell said that she does not believe in “Medicare For All” proposals pushed by some Democrats, saying it would lead to less efficient and accessible healthcare.
“That is unsustainable. That is a government-run healthcare system,” she said.
Though she thinks protections for people with pre-existing conditions should remain in place, she said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — led to higher premiums for consumers.
To lower healthcare costs and increase accessibility, there should be more of a focus on preventive medical care and increasing choice through the private sector and allowing people to buy healthcare across state lines.
Though she said that she does not support privatizing or selling federal public lands, Herrell said she does believe the state and county governments should take a larger role in their management.
“I think that people who live closest to the lands live off the land and utilize them most frequently,” she said.
The federal government does not have the money, wherewithal to protect public forests and assets in New Mexico, and that through federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the state has been prevented from doing so and that it has harmed entities such as the state’s timber industry.
She said the state could cover the cost of managing the large swaths of public lands now managed by keeping certain money from state royalties, which New Mexico sends to the federal government.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.