New Mexico’s Unfinished Business

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The first congressional district of New Mexico, largely comprised of the city of Albuquerque, is still up for grabs, with results not expected until Friday. Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid has advantages — she is a popular Hispanic in a district that is more than 1/3 Hispanic, the electorate has more registered Democrats than Republicans — but the benefits of incumbency have made the Republican congresswoman, Heather Wilson, nearly untouchable since 1998.

That’s no longer the case. Wilson leads by a mere 48 votes.

Madrid had an uphill climb in the campaign to unseat Wilson, a former Air Force officer, because Wilson has strong support from military and defense workers in a district that includes Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories. However, Wilson is widely considered a rubber-stamp Republican, having voted with the party-line 89% of the time since 1991 and has generated plenty of vitriol from local Democrats in recent years by running ads with testimonials like, “Heather Wilson is the most independent politician I have ever known…she is non-partisan.”

Wilson also generated controversy as the number-four recipient of campaign contributions from former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s ARMPAC, which is currently under investigation for corruption. She has returned less than one-quarter of those funds with local Democrats calling for her to give all of the money back.

Ultimately, this race may turn against her because her staunch support of President Bush is increasingly unpopular in a city where only 38 percent of metro-area voters approve of Bush. If Madrid wins, Wilson would be the first incumbent to ever lose the district.

— Sam Taub

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