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Democrats look to flip Pearce’s seat

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – The two women candidates in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District reached a similar conclusion in deciding to run for the seat long held by Republicans.

“We can’t sit on the sidelines anymore,” said Madeline Hildebrandt, an adjunct professor of history, Coast Guard veteran and resident of Socorro.

“Maybe it’s time for me not to be on the sidelines,” said Xochitl Torres Small, a native of Las Cruces and an attorney who worked as a field organizer for Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Madeleine Hildebrandt
(Click photo for Candidate Bio and Q&A)

Xochitl Torres Small (Click photo for Candidate Bio and Q&A)

Both are first-time candidates and among a record number of women seeking office this year. They’re in the race to succeed Republican Steve Pearce, who did not seek re-election to run for governor.

For Hildebrandt, 56, a mother of two adult children and a grandmother, the top issue is education, including improving public schools, bolstering support for vocational training, and reducing the cost of higher education.

“In order to affect our economy even, we need to begin with education,” she said.

For Torres Small, 33, improving rural schools, access to health care and reducing brain drain are priorities. “It’s time to make sure New Mexicans have an opportunity to achieve their dreams right here in southern New Mexico. Right now people feel like they can’t always do that,” Torres Small said.

She is married to state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces.

The district that has repeatedly elected Republicans to Congress includes New Mexico’s second-largest city but also rural areas rooted in conservative values. On the campaign trail, both women are appealing to rural New Mexicans.

“What I am is a veteran, somebody who was raised on a farm and a ranch, somebody who understands the needs of rural New Mexico,” Hildebrandt said.

“We’re not serving rural New Mexico anymore, so we need a strong voice who will fight for that,” Torres Small said.

The district also includes a large swath of border with Mexico that has become a focal point for the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration and promise to build a border wall.

“I think it’s wasteful. It’s fiscally irresponsible,” Torres Small said.

“We have what fence we have, and the idea of going on and creating more fence or more wall is kind of archaic,” Hildebrandt said.

Both candidates support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and comprehensive immigration reform.

“We need it for our jobs. We need it for our futures. We need it for our families,” Torres Small said.

Hildebrandt said she was inspired to run for Congress after seeing a young girl crying at a grocery store and telling her mother she was worried her grandmother would be deported.

“‘Mama, when we get home is my abuelita going to be there?’ The mom says, ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t she be?’ And she answers, ‘Because she’s from Mexico.’ ”