ALBUQUERQUE – An oil company executive announced Tuesday she will seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for the state’s southern congressional seat in what is expected to be a closely watched 2020 U.S. House race.
Claire Chase said in an interview with The Associated Press she is officially jumping into the race after months of discussions with her family and heavy encouragement by fellow Republicans.
“I remember waking up the day after the (2018) election in a state that I didn’t recognize anymore,” said Chase, 36. “This is a conservative district and I represent pro-life, pro-family, pro-Second Amendment values.”
Chase, the director of government affairs for Mack Energy Corp., said she wants to tackle education reform in Congress, especially since New Mexico ranks near the bottom on a number of lists around child well-being and education.
In a campaign announcement released later Tuesday, Chase blamed the state’s struggling educational system on “liberal, career politicians” who support “radical policies that support open borders, undermine the industries that power our economy, and threaten our way of life.”
Chase also promised to take “the fight to the socialists” in Washington. She faces former state Rep. Yvette Herrell and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys in the Republican primary.
Chase, a Roswell, New Mexico, native, is married to Chance Chase – the grandson of New Mexico oil and natural gas tycoon Mack Chase. He founded Mack Energy, which is still owned by the family.
Her announcement comes a week after she served as master of ceremonies for an event featuring Vice President Mike Pence in southern New Mexico. Pence praised Chase but stopped short of endorsing her for any office.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that supports Democratic U.S. House candidates on Tuesday denounced Chase as someone with a “record of looking out for the wealthy” and special interests.
“Southern New Mexico families are facing real challenges like rising health care costs, stagnant wages, and a broken education system,” campaign committee spokeswoman Brooke Goren said. “The last thing they need is a lobbyist like Claire Chase putting her special interest cronies ahead of working New Mexicans in Washington.”
Torres Small defeated Herrell in 2018 by fewer than 3,000 votes to flip a traditionally Republican-leaning district that sits along to U.S.-Mexico border. She became only the second Democrat to win the traditionally Republican-leaning district.
Herrell faced criticism after turning down all debate invitations in 2018 and dodging many reporters during the campaign. She repeatedly ignored interview requests from The AP.
In a statement, Herrell spokesman Paul Smith said she looked forward to debating opponents and had a “top-notch campaign” ready for the GOP primary. “Her efforts are paying off with early endorsements from the House Freedom Caucus, Cowboys for Trump, FreedomWorks, GOP House Leader Jim Townsend, 12 New Mexico Sheriffs, numerous current and former state legislators,” Smith said.
Torres Small, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, rarely mentioned Trump on the campaign trail in 2018 and promised to uphold the region’s “rural values.” In Congress, Torres Small has attempted to portray herself as a moderate on issues around immigration and spending.
The sprawling district is home to a lucrative oil region but also has some of the poorest communities in the U.S. The district houses the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.