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Pearce Wins; Wilson Endorses; Udall Attacks

By Heather Clark
Associated Press
      Steve Pearce won the Republican nomination in the race for U.S. Senate over rival Heather Wilson and will now turn to the challenge of keeping Sen. Pete Domenici's seat in Republican hands.
    The southern New Mexico representative won Tuesday's primary with roughly 51 percent of the vote, compared to Wilson's 49 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting statewide, according to unofficial results.
    Pearce, who ran as a conservative, will face Democrat Tom Udall, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, on Nov. 4.
    Wilson endorsed Pearce this morning, saying that Republicans have "no time for disappointment or for bitterness."
    "Republicans have made their choice and I gladly accept it," she said.
    Wilson, a moderate Republican who has served the Albuquerque-area 1st District since 1998, will be out of a job next January. She vacated her House seat to run for Senate a decision she said she did not regret.
    Wilson said she did not know what she would do next but that considering her broad resume, "I don't think I will be unemployed come January."
    Because New Mexico is a swing state, the general election is likely to be one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, with New Mexico's winner possibly tipping the balance of power of the Senate.
    "Fantastic," Pearce spokesman Brian Phillips said early today when he heard that Pearce had won. "We're very excited. We're very positive. ... We always thought we had it in us."
    Pearce, who planned to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Washington today, was not available for comment.
    Udall said today that Pearce "is out of touch with mainstream voters in New Mexico."
    Udall said his top issues in the general election campaign will be redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq, job creation, universal health care and promoting renewable energy.
    Domenici will retire in January after 36 years in office after being diagnosed last fall with an incurable brain disease.
    The Pearce campaign fought an uphill battle, starting out the campaign season trailing Wilson and with low name recognition in northern New Mexico.
    Pearce had been leading the polls coming into election day until Domenici handed Wilson a belated surprise endorsement that gave her campaign a boost in the final days, tightening the race.
    But Wilson supporters said early Tuesday that the endorsement was too little, too late.
    Domenici "was the one who got her in there. He should have backed her from the get go," said Bill Johnson of Albuquerque.
    Domenici said Sunday he would "do the maximum" for Pearce, if asked. Domenici was not immediately available for comment early Wednesday.
    Phillips said he hoped the GOP would pull together to beat Udall, despite Domenici's endorsement of Wilson.
    "We expect that we will run as a unified party with the support of Heather Wilson and Senator Domenici," he said.
    Pearce focused on his Republican credentials, including opposition to abortion rights and his staunch support of the war in Iraq. His main message to constituents has been his fiscal conservatism when voting on spending bills in Congress and his mission to go after wasteful federal spending.
    His position was bolstered by an anti-tax conservative group called Club for Growth.Net, which spent $620,000 on television and Internet advertising against Wilson and collected $275,000 in contributions for Pearce.
    Anger over Club for Growth's attack ads against Wilson and the out-of-state group's influence on what should be a decision by New Mexico voters prompted Domenici's endorsement of Wilson.
    Wilson, referring to the group's ads, said her narrow loss to Pearce showed "that negative advertising works."
    She said the ads were funded by four out-of-state millionaires. "I'm so glad we've got big money out of politics," she added.
    As expected, Pearce dominated across his southern New Mexico district. The former owner of an oil services company in Lea County also won 57 percent of the vote in San Juan County, which is also home to the oil industry.
    Wilson was strong in Bernalillo County, where she serves the 1st District, getting about 66 percent of the vote, but it was not enough to overcome Pearce's higher margins in his district.
    Wilson also had a strong showing in Los Alamos home to the nuclear weapons lab where she accused Pearce of voting to cut federal funding and jobs with 73 percent of the vote.
    Wilson had remained upbeat throughout Tuesday evening. She was greeted by supporters cheering, "Viva, Heather!" as she arrived with her husband and daughter at an election night party thrown by the state Republican Party.
    Pearce shook hands and greeted about 200 cheering supporters at his election night party across town with his wife, grown daughter and other family members by his side.
    Pearce said Tuesday he felt his campaign ran the race well.
    "Obviously, we would like for it to be a bigger margin, but we're satisfied with any win," he said before the winner was announced.
    Wilson had campaigned as a moderate conservative who votes for the interests of New Mexicans rather than on a narrow ideological basis.
    The two Republicans attacked each other in TV ads. Pearce charged Wilson with being a liberal and paired her with Udall. Wilson accused him of voting to mothball Cannon Air Force Base and seeking to take away Social Security benefits from widows and orphans. Both denied the charges.
    At times, the candidates reminded voters they are from the same party. In a lighter moment at a televised debate in Albuquerque, Pearce and Wilson both pledged to endorse the GOP primary winner.
    Associated Press writer Deborah Baker in Albuquerque contributed to this report.

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