Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Steve Pearce, who lost in a hard-fought governor’s race earlier this month, announced Tuesday he is running to be the next chairman of the state Republican Party.
A longtime congressman from southern New Mexico who is finishing up the term he was elected to in 2016, Pearce would give the GOP a high-profile leader after a brutal Election Day that saw Democrats win all statewide races.
However, he will face at least one rival when the state GOP central committee gathers next month to select a new party chairman, as Albuquerque businessman John Rockwell said Tuesday he’s running, too.
The fallout of the election has seen finger-pointing among state Republicans, with several loyalists to outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s political machine lashing out at current GOP leaders.
Pearce, a Hobbs resident who ran for governor this year instead of seeking re-election to his congressional seat, indicated in a statement announcing his campaign for chairman that he is not ready to retire and said he would rebuild the Republican Party.
“I seek the chairmanship of the Republican Party of New Mexico not for the title, but instead for the opportunity to help create a new beginning for our party and a path to prosperity for our state,” Pearce said.
A campaign spokesman said later Tuesday that Pearce’s bid for party chair does not rule out a possible run for his old congressional seat – the 2nd Congressional District – in 2020. Under state GOP party rules, a party chairman running for public office must vacate their party post only if another Republican has filed to run for the same seat.
Rockwell, who also ran unsuccessfully for GOP party chairman in 2012 and 2016, said he supported Pearce’s gubernatorial bid and described him as a good congressman.
But he also said Pearce has been closely aligned with current party leaders in recent years and would represent a status quo choice at a time when Republicans should be aiming to be more inclusive.
“We need change in this party,” Rockwell told the Journal. “We just had a disaster on our hands.”
In terms of voter registration numbers, Democrats hold a significant advantage over Republicans in New Mexico. As of last month, there were about 578,000 registered Democrats statewide compared to roughly 383,000 Republicans.
But voters have elected Republicans to key statewide positions in recent years, including Martinez to governor in 2010 and 2014 and state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn in 2014, though Dunn eventually changed his party affiliation to Libertarian.
This year’s election cycle, however, saw Democrats post wins up and down the ballot. Pearce was defeated in the governor’s race by Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, with Lujan Grisham getting about 57 percent of the votes cast in the contest, according to unofficial results.
Democrats are also on track to pick up eight seats in the state House and will enter next year with significant majorities in both legislative chambers.
The state GOP’s central committee will meet Dec. 8 in Albuquerque to pick a successor to Ryan Cangiolosi, who is not seeking re-election as party chairman. New Mexico Democrats are expected to pick a new party chair of their own next spring.
The party chairman post is a volunteer position that oversees staffers, coordinates fundraising and messaging efforts and helps identify potential candidates.