Cruces councilor to announce bid for 2nd CD seat

NM 2nd Congressional District candidate Gabe Vasquez. (Courtesy Gabe Vasquez)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez said Tuesday that he will run next year for the southern New Mexico congressional seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, becoming the first Democrat to wade into what’s expected to be an expensive and hotly contested race.

Vasquez, 37, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and executive director of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce in Las Cruces, planned to formally announce his campaign Wednesday. He is seeking to become just the second Democrat to hold the conservative-leaning 2nd Congressional District seat since 2011.

He said his priorities if elected would include changes to federal immigration laws, combating climate change by gradually moving away from fossil fuels, defending voter rights and seeking higher wages for workers.

Vasquez, who has roots in Mexico and was the first member of his family to be born in the United States, said the American dream is becoming increasingly difficult to realize for many low-income residents.

“Our economy is more successful when it’s more fair,” he told the Journal.

He also said his past work in both the private and public sectors – including as a city councilor since 2017 – has allowed him to forge relationships with local leaders in southern New Mexico.

Among other achievements, Vasquez touted his efforts in helping to craft the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund, a grant program created in 2019 to help children from low-income families participate in outdoor programs.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary election in June will face a tough November 2022 general election matchup against Herrell, a Republican who reported having more than $698,000 in her campaign account as of June 30.

The last Democrat to win election in the district was Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces, who defeated Herrell in 2018 in a race that did not feature an incumbent because Republican Steve Pearce gave up a possible reelection bid to run for governor.

However, Herrell then beat Torres Small in a 2020 rematch in a race that was one of the nation’s most expensive congressional races, with roughly $35 million in total spending, a figure that includes political spending by both the candidates and outside groups.

In an interview, Vasquez called Herrell a divisive figure who has not been responsive to district residents’ needs since taking office in January.

“I think that Rep. Herrell is too busy playing partisan politics in Washington, D.C.,” Vasquez said.

The 2nd Congressional District encompasses all of southern New Mexico – including Las Cruces and the state’s oil patch – and stretches north into Valencia County and parts of Bernalillo County, including Isleta Pueblo.

But the district’s boundary lines are expected to be adjusted when the Legislature convenes later this year for the once-per-decade task of redistricting.

Vasquez, who is not seeking reelection this year to his council seat, said he decided to launch his congressional campaign even before the political boundaries are redrawn.

“I think it’s absolutely a winnable district for a Democrat,” he said.

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