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The campaign attack ad no man could get away with

Trump loyalty the focus of dueling ads in GOP primary in New Mexico

Two Republican women battling to challenge  freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico traded attack ads over who has been more disloyal to President Donald Trump.
Two Republican women battling to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico traded attack ads over who has been more disloyal to President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It’s a campaign attack ad that no man could ever get away with: a picture of a young blonde woman on the screen as a voice actress impersonates the candidate in a ditzy tone.

It’s no surprise that in a competitive Republican primary, Claire Chase is being attacked for Facebook posts in which she criticized Donald Trump. But the fact that one of the most sexist campaign ads in recent memory comes from a fellow female candidate is quite a plot twist.

The stakes are high and the GOP nomination is valuable in New Mexico’s 2nd District because it’s one of Republicans’ top takeover opportunities. Trump carried the expansive district by 10 points in 2016, but Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won the open seat two years later, defeating Republican state Rep. Yvette Herrell, 51 percent to 49 percent, in one of the closest races in the country.

Herrell is running again but faces Chase, a first-time candidate, in the June 2 GOP primary. The race is a good example of why the record-breaking total number of Republican women running for the House is misleading. The 2nd District features two credible female candidates, but only one of them will win the primary and there’s no guarantee the nominee will win the general election.

‘Hashtag Dump Trump’

Chase’s anti-Trump Facebook posts surfaced in September but didn’t hit the airwaves until Herrell’s ad launched last week.

“A reading of never-Trumper Claire Chase’s actual Facebook posts,” says a male narrator as a picture of Chase appears onscreen. “Donald Trump’s an a**hole unworthy of the office of the President,” reads a voice actress in a stereotypical cheerleader’s voice. “Beyond offensive,” she continues, “Throw up in my mouth.” “836,297 reasons not to vote for him. #Dump Trump.”

“She’s Never Trump, so we’re Never Claire,” the ad’s male narrator concludes.

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Chase, 36, is a working mother of two who graduated from New Mexico State University, was a senior legislative assistant to GOP Rep. Steve Pearce (who held the seat for 14 of the 16 years before Torres Small) and became director of government affairs for Mack Energy. She’s also about the same age as the incumbent, who also is a former congressional aide. Torres Small just happens to have dark hair.

“There was a way to do this to be a killer hit, but instead, it’s a joke and muddled up with a bunch of garbage that will distract the voter from the actual hit,” a female GOP consultant who is not working on the race said. “The Valley Girl accent is just part of the problem with this ad.”

Herrell isn’t the only one on the attack. A recent ad from Chase, with grainy pictures and ominous music, is more typical.

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“The record is clear: Career politician Yvette Herrell undermined Trump’s campaign. And after taking a pledge not to raise taxes, she voted for a massive tax hike,” says the ad, which is entirely narrated by a man. “Herrell’s record of betraying New Mexico families and standing against President Trump must end.”

Herrell, 56, is a real estate company owner who served eight years in the New Mexico House before her congressional loss. After declaring victory on election night in 2018, before absentee ballots had been fully counted, she didn’t concede the race until early January.

A TV ad from Citizens for a United New Mexico, echoed the same tone and themes against Herrell as the Chase ad, with a $70,000 buy in the first two weeks in April. According to tracking by Kantar/CMAG, the Chase campaign is scheduled to spend $431,000 on ads compared with $206,000 by Herrell.

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Herrell and Chase aren’t the only ones in the GOP race or the only ones on television. Army veteran Chris Mathys is running as well. His ads tend to be low on production quality and high on patriotism, waving flags, Lee Greenwood, and use of the term “illegal aliens.” His ads haven’t mentioned either primary opponent.

Mathys, who served on the Fresno City Council in California from 1997 to 2001, lost a GOP primary for a seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission in 2018. He’s trailed Herrell and Chase in fundraising and spending on television. He raised $15,000, contributed $277,000 of his own money, and had $200,000 in the bank through the end of March. His total ad buy was $129,000, according to tracking by Kantar/CMAG through Sunday.

Either Herrell or Chase is likely to emerge with the GOP nomination, but the winner will have a difficult race against Torres Small. The congresswoman is compiling a significant cash advantage with $3 million in the bank after raising $3.4 million through the end of March. At a similar point, Chase had raised $1.1 million with $264,000 in the bank, while Herrell raised $773,000, with $374,000 on hand. In 2018, Torres Small outraised and outspent Herrell $4.8 million to $1.5 million.

New Mexico’s 2nd District is essential to Republicans’ gaining the 18 seats they need for a majority. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic.

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