Republican Rep. Steve Pearce and Democrat Rep. Tom Udall answered tough questions on the economy, the war in Iraq and the Supreme Court in their final debate on Oct. 26 before voters go to the polls to choose a replacement for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, R- N.M.
Over the course of the candidates' three debates, which began Oct. 15, Udall has opened up a commanding 17.6-percentage point lead on his opponent, up from only a 7-point advantage in early September, according to polling averages from RealClearPolitics.
The final debate, sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal, saw Udall continue his efforts to link Pearce to the Bush administration and the deregulatory policies being blamed for much of the ongoing financial turmoil.
The Democratic hopeful focused on the testimony of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, asking Pearce, "I wonder if you now, in light of what Alan Greenspan has said, regret supporting this whole deregulatory approach that's gotten us into this devastating financial crisis?"
Pearce shot back, saying, "Tom, we'll walk through the facts one more time. The deregulation began under President Clinton."
Pearce hammered Udall as a panderer and flip-flopper, saying the Democrat has changed his position on key issues such as domestic drilling and nuclear power development. He has also argued that Udall is connected to environmental extremists and called him "breathtakingly liberal," in an effort to sway moderate voters, the Associated Press reported.
Udall, who represents New Mexico's largely Democratic northern third congressional district in the U.S. House, has gained some support from the state's southern second district, which Pearce represents in the House. That support includes an endorsement from a top newspaper in the southern part of the state, the Las Cruces Sun-News. The paper's editors said they decided not to support Pearce based on his harsh partisanship in Congress.
"The longer he has been in Washington, the more hardened his positions seem to have become and the less interested he has been in coalition building," the newspaper said, citing Pearce's work on wilderness and environmental issues in the state. "Instead of listening to both sides and seeking common ground, Pearce merely declared a winner and introduced a politically motivated bill that had no chance of passage and bringing resolution to the issue. Udall, by contrast, has been able to work with all of the various interests to negotiate the passage of four different wilderness areas in the northern part of the state."
Udall still faces some opposition in the state's Democratic north. The Daily Times in the northern city of Farmington chose not to back Udall, saying Pearce would best represent the interests of the city.
"Pearce seems to be the candidate more interested in representing the Four Corners region, and he is no stranger to the issues we face here, having made numerous visits to the area that go beyond spotlighted stumping," the Daily Times said in its endorsement.
Still, Udall enters the final leg of the campaign enjoying a growing lead in the polls -- and presidential polls also show Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama's appeal growing in the state as well.
On Saturday, Oct. 25, Udall appeared at a campaign rally with Obama and Gov. Bill Richardson at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and is also urging supporters to vote early. Early voting in New Mexico began on Oct. 18 and runs through Nov. 1.
According to the Silver City Sun-News, Udall told a crowd in Bayard that the race's homestretch may prove the most critical time: "Elections are won and lost in the last two to three weeks."