LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (Border Report) – Many New Mexicans are getting to meet Gabe Vasquez through television ads portraying him as a masked radical who wants to defund the police and kill 62,000 oil and gas jobs in the state.

Vasquez, a Democrat running for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, brushes aside the National Republican Congressional Committee attacks on his stance on racial equity and green energy.

“I’m being attacked simply because my opponent cannot defend her own record as one of the most ineffective members of Congress. So, all she can do is attack me and those attacks have been proven false by the media,” Vasquez said Saturday during a campaign event in Las Cruces.

But the mudslinging is flying both ways.

Ads by the House Majority Political Action Committee paint incumbent U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-NM, as “too extreme for New Mexico.” They accuse her of wanting to criminalize abortion for rape victims and of supporting anti-government extremists.

Conflicting poll numbers

Herrell, who has denied those claims, was not available for an interview this weekend. Her campaign pointed to polling from Emerson College Polling-The Hill that puts her ahead of Vasquez in a very competitive race that may have a bearing on whether Democrats hold their majority on the House of Representatives or Republicans reclaim it.

Vasquez said a couple of other polls put him ahead of Herrell. His campaign got a boost on Saturday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham came stumping for him in Las Cruces. Her message conveyed some urgency.

“In mid-terms we get comfortable. Mid-terms are tricky. That’s why I’m here,” she told a gathering of Doña Ana County Democratic leaders. “I thank you for showing up. I thank you for fighting against hate and misinformation.”

Polls aside, political observers told Border Report this race is too close to call.

The Democratic-controlled state legislature last year redrew the boundaries of a district that has remained in the hands of Republicans 18 of the past 22 years. The district now includes less of southeastern New Mexico and more of the Albuquerque suburbs.

“Most of northern New Mexico remains solid blue,” said Richard Pineda, director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communications Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Most of southeast New Mexico remains pretty fervent Republican.”

He said the ad buys in the Herrell-Vasquez race don’t appear as numerous as in the 2020 Herrell-Xochitl Torres Small race. “You seemed to see an ad in the Torres Small (race) every commercial break. [….] There was so much contention it now seems almost less explosive,” he said.

That election ended with Herrell unseating incumbent Democrat Torres Small and the district going back to the Republicans.

The economy and immigration, top issues in campaign

Lujan Grisham said Doña Ana County voters would have a big impact on the outcome of the race. The county has 221,508 residents and is 69.3 percent Hispanic, according to census data.

Vasquez plays up his Latino roots. “I am the only candidate that has lived on both sides of the border,” he said on Saturday. “My family believed in el sueño americano – the American dream; that we should all be able to afford a home, have a good education for our children, affordable childcare. That is what we are all about.”

The former Las Cruces City Council member was born in El Paso, Texas, raised in Juarez, Mexico, and moved to Las Cruces as a teenager. He’s a staunch opponent of enforcement-only immigration policies.

“We need immigration reform that works for everybody,” Vasquez said. “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to come into this country.”

He said he also favors border security that would allow border agents to vet the unprecedented number of migrants coming across the border. Federal immigration officials have documented more than 4 million unauthorized crossings on the southern border in the past two fiscal years and estimate thousands more have eluded detection and become “got-aways.“

Herrell has said the Biden administration’s mixed messages and unwillingness to enforce immigration laws have precipitated the surge and need to be stopped.

“We can secure the border and end this humanitarian crisis by stopping harmful policies like ‘catch-and-release,’ while reinstating policies that worked, such as ‘Remain in Mexico,’” Herrell said in a statement to Border Report on Sunday.

She said defunding immigration enforcement agencies would “be a disaster for our border region.”

But while immigration is very important to southern New Mexico voters, the economy is their top concern, she said earlier.

New Mexicans “care about the cost of groceries, they care about the cost of gas … they’re worried about their businesses staying open, they’re concerned about an open border and fentanyl,” she said last month in Las Cruces. “Policies coming out of Washington have been very detrimental to every American, regardless of party.”