Wilson’s deliberate approach to campaigning and her moderate brand of Republicanism have won supporters among conservative Hispanics, both Democrats and Republicans.
A 51-year-old married mother of two teenagers, Wilson describes herself as a bit introverted, but she has run an aggressive campaign. “There’s going to be stark choice here,” she said in an interview. “If New Mexican voters believe the path to create American jobs is keeping taxes low, then they have an option. That’s my campaign.”
After playing up her conservative bona fides to win the primary, Wilson is running down the middle, talking about the the need for bipartisanship in the Senate, claiming the mantle of an independent and putting a little distance between herself and her party. She has said she will not attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa next month.
A biographical ad that aired this summer did not mention that she is a Republican, nor did it directly refer to her time in Congress. It focused instead on her résumé — her academic honors and military service, as well as her time on the National Security Council staff.
The chance of a Wilson victory has energized and engaged a range of national Republicans and conservative super PACs.
Democrats say they are confident, but they understand the stakes; despite Obama’s big win in 2008, the previous two presidential elections here were nail-biters. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico by 365 votes; in 2004, Republican George W. Bush won the state by fewer than 6,000 votes. In 2010, Republicans swept the top three statewide offices, with Susana Martinez becoming the nation’s first Latina governor.
Heinrich, 40, who succeeded Wilson in her old congressional district, is working hard to keep the Senate seat in Democratic hands. The two-term House member and former Albuquerque City Council member has spent the past four years making inroads with the Hispanic community, setting up an office in the city’s South Valley neighborhood and recruiting prominent Hispanic supporters.
Roll Call and the Cook Political Report rate the race a tossup, but Heinrich could benefit from the Obama operation here. The president has six offices in the state, and he, the first lady and Vice President Biden have all visited New Mexico this year. “When a lot of folks were running away from the president in 2010, we hosted him in the South Valley,” Heinrich said. “There was so much enthusiasm. It is very hard for Republicans to overcome those demographics in a presidential election year.”
Working in Wilson’s favor is a change pushed through by the Republican secretary of state that eliminated the option to vote a straight ticket by checking just one box.