NM-2 Rep. Steve Pearce (R) will once again give up his House seat to make a third statewide run. Pearce definitely has the statewide bug; he ran for Senate in 2000, and then served three terms in the House before running for Senate again in 2008. After a tough primary against fellow Rep. Heather Wilson (R) in which he ran to the right (in exactly the wrong year to do so), he was clobbered in the general by then-Rep. Tom Udall (D). Two years later, he was swept back into the House in the 2010 wave, defeating one-term-wonder Harry Teague (D). Now he leaves his seat for what looks like another uphill statewide run. As representative of a third of the state and more than a third of its Republicans, Pearce looks like the man to beat in the GOP primary, though it is still possible that other potential candidates like LG John Sanchez (R) and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (R) may still run. The general election is still very much an open question; Pearce’s 2008 performance hardly inspires confidence, and his ideological positioning is significantly to the right of the light-to-medium-blue state. But he is still a top-tier recruit by the standards of the NMGOP’s thin bench, due to his name rec and appeal to the southern half of the state. Should he make it to the general, he will likely face his congressional colleague, Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D) of Albuquerque, though multiple other Democrats are considering runs as well; the Dem nominee will start as a slight favorite but the race is by no means unwinnable for Pearce.
As for Pearce’s NM-2, the R+6 seat covers the southern half of the state from the oil rich “Little Texas” in the southeast to heavily Hispanic Las Cruces, and then north to the southern exurbs of Albuquerque. It is close to majority-Hispanic, but as Hispanics are low-turnout and the whites here are very conservative, it has not been more than a reach target for Dems in recent cycles with Pearce firmly entrenched. That said, this is the kind of seat that Dems will need to at least contest heavily to have a serious shot at winning the House. The best bet for Republicans might be State Lands Commissioner Aubrey Dunn Jr. (R), who ran for this seat in 2008 and won statewide in 2014 in a considerable upset. Another 2014 statewide nominee who could be strong is 2014 Senate nominee and ex-NMGOP chair Allen Weh (R), who also overperformed expectations in his Senate loss to Udall. Public Service Commissioner Patrick Lyons (R) could also be a strong possibility. From the prior candidate file, there is 2008 nominee Edward Tinsley (R), ex-NMGOP chair, ex-State Rep. and 2016 SoS nominee Nora Espinoza (R), 2012 Senate candidate Greg Sowards (R), and 2008 candidate, ex-Hobbs Mayor, and ex-NMGOP chair Monty Newman (R). From the legislature, State Sens. Greg Baca (R), Cliff Pirtle (R), Bill Burt (R), Gay Kernan (R), Ron Griggs (R), and Stewart Ingle (R) are possibilities, as are around a dozen GOP State Reps. Pirtle in particular ran for the seat in 2010 as a Some Dude (being flattened by Pearce in the primary) before winning his State Senate seat two years later.
Dems have a similarly deep bench. Ex-AG and 2014 Gov nominee Gary King (D) was the nominee for this seat in 2004; two other recent former statewide officials, ex-LG and 2010 Gov nominee Diane Denish (D), and ex-State Treasurer James Lewis (D), also live in the district. Public Service Commissioner Sandy Jones (D) is the only sitting state executive official in the seat for Dems and could be a possibility. Possibilities from the legislature could include State Sens. Howie Morales (D) and Joe Cervantes (D), who have been connected with long-shot Gov runs, and State Sen. William Soules (D), whose sister Merrie Lee (D), was the little-noticed 2016 nominee for this seat. Other State Sens. in the seat are Mary Kay Papen (D), Clemente Sanchez (D), and Jeff Steinborn (D), and over half a dozen D state Reps are in the seat. Overall this seat is probably more likely than not to stay in GOP hands, but Democrats would be foolish not to make a serious play for it without Pearce in the race.