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No stranger to Los Alamos, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., paid a visit to the county Friday in her bid to win the Republican nomination to try to fill the shoes of departing Sen. Pete Domenici.First, she faces Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., of Hobbs and the winner of that contest is likely to meet Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., of Santa Fe.Although Wilson represents New Mexico’s First Congressional District, centered in Albuquerque, Wilson has maintained a close relation to Los Alamos and has served as a kind of honorary representative for the local Republicans and other residents during much of her nine-year tenure.In a visit to the Monitor Friday, she talked about the race she has entered and what it means to be running as a “common sense” conservative. She said she believes in free enterprise and low taxes and “what works for New Mexico,” a strong national defense and secure borders. Other key issues in her campaign include the economy and jobs and environmental policy.Wilson said in her five terms as representative, she has never had an easy race.“I’m from a district that votes Democratic,” she said. “I have a tough fight every two years.”Identifying herself as a “common-sense” conservative, she said, answered the question she asked herself about who she was and how she differed from her opponents.“In Washington, you see things you want to achieve, but it’s more like football than baseball,” she said. “There aren’t many homeruns, but there are places where a hole opens up in the line. There are opportunities to advance the ball.”She contrasted her vote against the base closure bill that would have shut down a base in Clovis, N.M., with Pearce’s vote in favor.“When Cannon Air Force base was on the base closure list, Sen. Domenici asked me to be the one to stand up and speak out to save the base,” she said.Wilson’s efforts, along with efforts from others in the state, helped find the base a new mission and a renewed future.She said her vote in favor of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), a bill that was vetoed twice last year, was another example of common sense, because the old bill had a number of serious problems that were changed in the proposed bill.“Where’s the common sense in that?” she asked.She defended her early position opposing the “surge” in Iraq, saying that she had told the president what she thought, including her belief in the need for more attention to the Sunni tribes, which she said, “has been more effective than I thought.”Wilson is the only woman veteran in the current Congress. “I think the president deserves to hear from responsible people who are knowledgeable about national security,” she said.At the same time, she voted against the consolidated appropriation bill in December, because it did not include funds for “our troops in the field.”That bill contained the restored funds for the national laboratories – an issue both Wilson and Pearce have raised with Udall, whom they blame for voting in favor of severe cuts to the budget at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Wilson voted in favor of the consolidated bill when it included the military funds.“I think we need a common-sense conservative to stand up for our national labs. Neither of my opponents represent that,” she said.During the first weeks of her primary campaign, Wilson has visited 33 counties, 43 communities and 55 events and said she had heard common threads that included taxes, jobs and small business concerns.Wilson said that she saw border security as a major issue throughout the state, and not only along the southern border with Mexico.She expressed strong opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants. “We’ve got people standing in lines all around the world who want to obey our laws,” Wilson said.Asked if she could match Domenici’s ability to find federal funds for New Mexico, Wilson was asked how she felt about “earmarks,” special projects included in funding bills without specific committee approvals.“I think the ‘bridge to nowhere’ was a stupid idea,” she said, referring to the notorious appropriation involving hundreds of millions for an Alaskan project.“I don’t have a problem at all with appropriations,” she said. “I’ll be happy to debate anybody, without notes, on the needs of this state.”Wilson served as Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department from 1995-1998. She is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Monitor Reporter Katy Korkos contributed to this report.