By Tim Korte: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — Republican Steve Pearce reclaimed his old job on Tuesday, beating incumbent Democratic Rep. Harry Teague to win back the U.S. House seat he relinquished two years ago as the representative for southern New Mexico.
With 63 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial returns, the Republican challenger had almost 56 percent of the vote compared with 44 percent for Teague.
Meanwhile, incumbent Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan survived a spirited challenge from Republican Tom Mullins to win a second term in northern New Mexico.
The Albuquerque-area race between incumbent Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich and Republican businessman Jon Barela was too close to call.
The 63-year-old Pearce held the 2nd Congressional District seat for three terms from 2002-08 but left to pursue the U.S. Senate office that opened when Pete Domenici retired.
Pearce defeated former Albuquerque-area Rep. Heather Wilson in the Republican primary but lost to Democrat Tom Udall in the Senate race. Meanwhile, Teague filled Pearce’s congressional seat and became the first Democrat in 28 years to win it.
Teague was one of three Democratic congressmen in New Mexico fighting an election-year mood that favored Republicans nationwide.
Lujan held on to win a second term. With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Lujan has about 54 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent for Mullins, a Farmington petroleum engineer and tea party organizer.
The northern New Mexico seat has been safe for Democrats for three decades. But with no independent polling in the race this year there were questions about how Lujan would fare amid a national landscape that favored Republicans.
The answer for Lujan — just fine, even with Mullins organizing a hard-charging grassroots campaign.
Two years ago, Democrats swept the House seats. Heinrich became the first Democrat to win the 1st Congressional District seat since it was created in 1968, and Teague’s victory in the 2nd District made him the first Democrat to hold that job in 28 years.
During the campaign season, all three Democratic congressmen in New Mexico defended themselves against Republican criticism of votes that supported President Barack Obama’s agenda. Heinrich, Lujan and Teague all voted to support Obama’s federal stimulus project.
Heinrich and Lujan also voted for Obama’s health care bill. Teague split with Democrats on that measure but had to explain his vote in conservative-leaning southern New Mexico to support Obama’s energy plan, sometimes called the “cap-and-trade” bill.
Supporters, including most Democrats, said the legislation would help curb global warming. Opponents, including many Republicans, argued the energy bill would lead to higher electricity, gasoline and heating costs for consumers.
Pearce attacked Teague for cutting health care benefits for employees at his Hobbs-area oilfield services companies.
When Teague first ran for Congress in 2008, he touted his decision to offer his employees’ health care, making it a cornerstone of his campaign. But during the campaign, he told voters his business could no longer afford to provide health care amid the struggling national economy.