Democrat Martin Heinrich won election to New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat Tuesday in an expensive and hard-fought race against former Republican congresswoman Heather Wilson.
Heinrich, a two-term U.S. House member and former Albuquerque city councilor, defeated both Wilson and Independent American Party candidate Jon Barrie.
Heinrich’s victory means both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senate seats will remain Democratic as he joins Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and succeeds Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat who is retiring after 30 years in office.
Speaking at a victory rally at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Albuquerque, Heinrich vowed to continue pushing a Democratic agenda that he said will help lift America out of its lingering economic malaise.
“This is a time of significant challenge for our nation and New Mexico,” said Heinrich, joined by his wife, Julie, and their young sons, Carter and Micah. “Together we will prove the Land of Enchantment truly can be the land of opportunity.”
Heinrich pledged to make college more affordable, battle the “disastrous effects” of climate change, fight for marriage equality and equal pay and push for comprehensive immigration reform. He also promised to do it in a bipartisan way.
“Now is the time for reconciliation and reason,” he said. “Our kids — yours and mine — deserve nothing less.”
Across town at the Marriott Uptown, Wilson, joined by her husband, Jay Hone, and their two teenage children, thanked her supporters for doing their “absolute best” and wished Heinrich well as she conceded the election just before 10:30 p.m. Supporters gave Wilson a sustained round of applause.
“Martin Heinrich has promised repeatedly to put New Mexico first,” said Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate and Rhodes Scholar. “He has earned the opportunity to keep that promise and we should all wish him well in that effort.”
New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race, like many congressional races around the country, centered on job creation and the economy. Wilson and Heinrich sparred repeatedly— in debates and in television commercials — over who was best equipped to protect New Mexico’s nuclear laboratories and military installations and the thousands of jobs they provide.
Wilson hammered Heinrich’s vote in support of a bill to raise the debt ceiling that also could lead to drastic cuts in the nation’s defense budgets, which she said could cost 20,000 jobs in New Mexico.
Heinrich portrayed Wilson as beholden to big money special interests in Washington, especially the oil and gas industry, and blasted her for voting to bail out Wall Street before she left Congress in 2008.
The two repeatedly clashed over energy policy, with Wilson voicing support for more oil and gas extraction and Heinrich calling for greater emphasis on research and development of clean energy such as wind, solar and geothermal. New Mexico is among the nation’s top energy producing states.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce aired several ads attacking Heinrich on economic and energy issues, such as his vote in support of a so-called cap-and-trade bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that the Chamber said would cost New Mexico jobs.
But Heinrich benefited greatly from a nearly $2 million ad campaign purchased by a consortium of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. The ads accused Wilson of supporting legislation that could have harmed New Mexico’s drinking water and other natural resources.
Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund, said the investment in Heinrich was justified by Tuesday’s result.
“Clean energy emerged a big winner,” Beinecke said in an email to the Journal. “The American people chose many candidates who campaigned on renewable sources of energy.”
At the outset earlier this year, New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race was widely considered to be among the nation’s top-tier political battles featuring two savvy, experienced politicians. But Wilson struggled to gain traction in polls throughout the summer and fall election season. The two candidates each raised at least $6 million in the contest.
In an effort to woo voters who had negative perceptions of her from her decade of U.S. House service — much of that tenure during the administration of former President George W. Bush — Wilson tried to soften her image. In one commercial late in the campaign, a smiling Wilson played the banjo as her children spoke of her as a mother and public servant.
Heinrich, in his victory speech, suggested he was ready to move beyond the campaign and get back to work in Washington.
“We will find a way to put results before rhetoric for a change,” he pledged.
Journal staff writers Hailey Heinz and Deborah Ziff contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A5 of the Albuquerque Journal