Pearce, Mullins win GOP congressional primaries

By Tim Korte: The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Steve Pearce will get a chance to win back his old job as a U.S. representative, defeating a little-known Republican primary challenger in the 2nd Congressional District race.

Pearce, a three-term former congressman, defeated Roswell-area farmer Cliff Pirtle in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Pearce said campaigning across the sprawling southern New Mexico district helped him reconnect with longtime supporters.

“The main thing is people know us,” Pearce told The Associated Press. “They know our record on keeping taxes low. They know my economic background, my business background, and they know that I’ve been in combat so I understand what we’re asking our young people to do when they go into combat zones.”

Unofficial returns showed Pearce with 85 percent of the vote with 82 percent of precincts reporting, while Pirtle had 15 percent.

Pearce advanced to the general election against first-term Rep. Harry Teague, the Democrat who took the office when Pearce stepped away to unsuccessfully pursue a U.S. Senate seat in 2008. Teague is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“We feel we can get it done,” Pearce said. “Fundraising is going well. The reaction in the district is going well. People are alarmed about what’s happening in D.C. and that helps our cause.”

Meanwhile, Farmington petroleum engineer Tom Mullins defeated Adam Kokesh, an Iraq war veteran from Santa Fe, in the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District.

Mullins will run against Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in the general election. Lujan was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Mullins had 72 percent of the vote and Kokesh had 28 percent.

Mullins was involved in organizing tea party events in the Farmington area over the past year.

“We have to be careful about any specific designations within the tea party, but I think I’ve drawn upon a variety of support,” Mullins said. “I’m just proud to be a regular American who continues to be concerned about the direction of our country for my children and grandchildren.”

Mullins cited his experience in the oil and gas industry, his listening skills and his background running a small business for helping him gain voters’ trust.

He acknowledged Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 in the northern New Mexico district, and Lujan will be favored.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle but we’ll make progress across the district,” he said.

In the Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District, first-term Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, is unopposed in the primary. He faces a November challenge from Republican Jon Barela, an Albuquerque businessman who has no primary opposition.

Pearce and Barela are among candidates that national Republicans are watching closely in the party’s effort to gain back seats in the House of Representatives.

Pearce, a former Air Force pilot and Vietnam-era veteran, won his initial bid for Congress in 2002 from the 2nd District. He served three terms before making a run at the Senate when former Sen. Pete Domenici retired but lost the 2008 Senate race to Democrat Tom Udall.