GOP candidates have at it

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By Roger Snodgrass

Onlookers wanting a good political fight were not disappointed Friday night. The two Republican contenders for U.S. Senate went toe-to-toe for two hours and both were still standing at the end.

New Mexico Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce wasted no time defining differences with each other, while also finding ways to describe their opponent’s resemblance to their Democratic rival Rep. Tom Udall.

Wilson landed the first punch in her opening statement, accusing Pearce of voting on an amendment that she said would have cut even more money from Los Alamos last year than the appropriations bill for which Udall voted.

She described herself as a “common-sense conservative” and said the contest was about who could win.

“I have a lot of experience winning where it’s tough to win,” she said, noting a little later in the debate that President Bush’s nickname for her is “Landslide,” a reference to her narrow victories in highly competitive terrain that Democrats dominated in other races in 2004.

“Every two years they have come after me and every two years we have won,” she said.

Pearce emphasized his conservative credentials, including an endorsement by the Susan B. Anthony List for his right-to-life position on abortion.

“I’m the person most closely aligned with conservative values in New Mexico,” Pearce said. “I will vote against wasteful spending every time.”

Pearce accused Wilson of voting for frivolous projects, saying that he was a strong supporter of the laboratory and its mission and that the votes being held up by Wilson were votes against government waste, not the against the lab.

Held in the Duane W. Smith Auditorium and sponsored by the Monitor, this was the second debate of the season for Wilson, who represents the First District, and Pearce who represents the Second District.

The victor will face Udall, New Mexico’s Third District congressman, to see who will win the seat of Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Domenici will retire at the end of this year.

Both debaters expressed strong support for the war in Iraq, but with some differences.

“We must defeat radical Islam; that’s when we know the job is finished,” Pearce said. “World stability is what we are after.”

“Iraq must not be allowed to become the source of instability in the region,” Wilson said. In her view, the United States’ national interests were more limited but should be pursued.

The two found common ground in the need to provide immunity for telephone companies facing lawsuits from illegal wiretapping at the government’s request.

On the question of climate change, both were somewhat skeptical of the global warming scenario and didn’t think U.S. economy should penalize itself if other countries were not going to take steps to limit carbon emissions.

Wilson spoke with expertise on nuclear nonproliferation about extending the verification of the START treaty with Russia. Pearce questioned the truthfulness of monitoring cameras and had a down-home version of a Ronald Reagan phrase.

“Trust your neighbors, but brand your cattle,” Pearce said.

Wilson supported increased fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. Pearce said the change would harm American automakers and especially hurt New Mexico drivers who rely on pickups.

Spending issues dominated the discussion. Wilson repeated points she has previously raised that Pearce voted in favor of the closure of Cannon Air Force Base and against increasing border security agents.

Pearce denied there was a vote to close the base and talked about his strong support of border security.

He charged Wilson withmissing 22 important roll calls recently in Congress in order to campaign.

“Were you really taping campaign commercials?” he asked.

“No, I was here talking to the people of Los Alamos,” Wilson replied. She defended what she described as a 98-percent voting record over 10 years.

Pearce countered that missing a vote while Congress is in session is missing a vote regardless of the reason. Wilson shot back that Pearce missed an important Iraq pullout vote last November.

In conclusion, Wilson returned to her criticism of Pearce’s voting record.

“I will not allow a narrow ideological agenda to vote against the interests of the state of New Mexico,” she said.

Pearce concluded with a list of votes on which Wilson and Udall were on the same side. He said they voted together in favor of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, a $2-million earmark for a “paint shield” that would protect people from “microbial threats,” a tax raise in the farm bill that hurt New Mexico cheese manufacturers, and for $71 billion increase in the State Children’s Insurance Program and the “surge” in Iraq.

In press releases issued by the two camps Saturday morning, both claimed victory.

The debate was facilitated by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Kathy Campbell. Members of the media posed questions and members of the audience also submitted questions. KRQE-TV carried the debate live on line and radio stations KUNM and KRSN aired the bout as well.