Five keys from New Mexico’s U.S. Senate debate

By | October 15th, 2012

The first debate between former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D.-N.M., ended in a clear advantage for Wilson.

Wilson was the happy warrior on Thursday night in the first of four U.S. Senate debates. At times, Heinrich looked more like a nervous job applicant than a two-term Member of Congress. Here are five key takeaways to consider in advance of their rematch on Wednesday night in Las Cruces.

1. Wilson played offense for nearly the whole debate.

Like a prosecutor, Wilson charged Heinrich with repeatedly voting against New Mexico. She did so by questioning Heinrich’s votes for the failed economic policies of the Obama Administration:

“The middle class has been suffering under the policies you have supported in the United States Congress for the last four years. We have $4,000 less in our average household income. Groceries are up. Gasoline is up. And, 30,000 fewer jobs. You need to quit ‘helping’ because you’re not helping the middle class. And we’ve got to get back to economic growth,” she said.

As the non-incumbent, she seized the opportunity to come out swinging.

She attacked Heinrich for voting against small business and the defense sector. For example, she challenged his vote for the 2011 Budget Control Act, which imposes “sequestration” and lets the federal 2001/2003 tax credits for small business owners expire in January, if Congress doesn’t reach a budget deal by the end of the year.  In the above video, she ripped Heinrich for being the only U.S. Representative from New Mexico to vote for a Continuing Resolution that jeopardized New Mexico’s national labs:

WILSON: “I think we need a United States Senator who will stand up and fight for our national labs… You voted for the debt commission bill that has led to us having 20,000 jobs at risk next year. 20,000 jobs, and you have to take responsibility for that.”
HEINRICH: “I voted to make sure we didn’t default on our debt and send the entire world into a second recession. I don’t support sequestration. I do support our labs.”

For his part, Heinrich stuck to his script – preserving Medicare and Social Security, veterans programs and helping to make college more affordable.  However, his only idea to tackle the crushing national debt was to increase taxes on those making more than $250,000.

Pulling out her Social Security card as a prop, Wilson was quick to note that she and her mother were once dependent on the program and she would make sure that those who relied on Social Security and Medicare would not have their checks placed at risk.

Wilson also said that assuming Heinrich could impose huge tax increases on higher income taxpayers, that change alone would not even make a dent in the $16 trillion debt.  “You have to control spending,” she said.

2. Wilson used anecdotes to make her case versus Heinrich’s rehashed talking points.

With an element of surprise, she shared the plight of the company that gave Heinrich his first job – Albuquerque’s Fiore Industries, saying it would have to lay off employees if the Bush-era tax credits expire. At one point, Heinrich’s left hand visibly shook until he lowered it outside the view of the camera.

Wilson said her children and Heinrich’s children should be given the same shot at a job that Heinrich was given by Fiore Industries. But she said Heinrich’s tax-and-spend policies stand in the way — killing jobs and keeping employers from hiring.

3. Wilson spoke directly to Heinrich, while Heinrich mostly conversed with the moderator, KRQE’s Dick Knipfing.

For the most part, Wilson smiled, showed passion and even injected a little humor. She exhibited confidence. With arms crossed often, Heinrich appeared stiff, rarely smiled and spoke like a technocrat.

4. Wilson set a clear contrast between her and Heinrich.

“You’ve got an ‘F’ rating from every small business organization in this country that rates Congress, in every single year you’ve been in Congress,” she said.

Heinrich offered no rebuttal to this and a number of other critiques.

Heinrich stretched to contrast himself with former Pres. George W. Bush and two GOP budget proposals – the so-called Cut, Cap and Balance Plan and the Ryan Budget – neither of which Wilson voted for while serving in the U.S. House.

5. Wilson articulated a pro-growth plan and clashed with Heinrich’s support for job-killing taxation and regulation – such as with ObamaCare.

Wilson articulated plans to get New Mexicans back to work: reduce tax rates for individuals and small businesses, and an “all-of-the-above” energy development policy.

“… Government cannot create wealth. It can create the conditions for small businesses and entrepreneurs to invest and create jobs. And that means low taxes and fair, predictable regulations, which is exactly the opposite of the way you’ve been taking this country in the last four years.”

Heinrich offered no specifics to create jobs – other than a law he sponsored that he said would help people buy homes and start businesses (in green energy) on federal tribal lands.

Lastly, Wilson hammered Heinrich for supporting the $1 trillion Health Care Act, which stripped $700 million out of Medicare to pay for a budget-busting, massive federal takeover of health care.

[Updated 10/16/12]