State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn will run for the open 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House next year instead of seeking re-election to his current job.
“With my decades of experience in business, agriculture and public service, I will fight to create jobs, improve our economy, reform health care and protect our border,” Dunn, a Republican, said in a Tuesday news release announcing his congressional candidacy.
The U.S. House seat is being vacated by Steve Pearce, a Republican who last week announced that he’s running for governor in 2018.
“With Steve Pearce running for governor, the stakes are simply too high for southern New Mexicans to lose an experienced, pro-jobs representative in Congress,” Dunn said.
Dunn ran for the U.S. House seat in 2008, the last time the race lacked an incumbent. He lost a crowded GOP primary that year to Ed Tinsley, who went on to lose the general election contest to Democrat Harry Teague.
Dunn is the second Republican to enter the 2018 race since Pearce announced his candidacy for governor. Last week, state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, joined the race.
“I have made the decision to run for Congress because I care about New Mexico and understand the importance of having a voice in Washington that will represent our values, our culture and our future,” Herrell said in a news release.
Dunn, with his name recognition and statewide fundraising experience, is likely to be seen at this stage as the favorite in the GOP primary.
Four Democrats, all political newcomers, joined the congressional race before Pearce announced he wasn’t seeking re-election: David Baake, who once worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council; Las Cruces activist Ronald Fitzherbert; Socorro resident Madeleine Hildebrandt, a Coast Guard veteran and college history teacher; and Tony Martinez, co-leader of the Las Cruces Indivisible group.
Pearce’s decision has sparked speculation about whether a higher-profile Democrat will join the race to replace him. None have announced their candidacies yet.
The district historically leans Republican but is being targeted by Democrats this year.
The Democratic Party was quick to attack Dunn after he announced his candidacy.
“Aubrey Dunn is another Republican with an extreme record that works against New Mexicans and won’t benefit in our economy,” Richard Ellenberg, chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said in a news release. “Democrats have renewed energy in the 2nd Congressional District and we’re going to do everything we can to take that seat.”
Dunn, the son of a former state senator, grew up in Otero County and worked in the banking industry for 25 years. He’s also a cattle rancher, and he and his wife Robin own and operate the Gran Quivira Ranch near Corona.
Dunn was elected land commissioner in 2014. He took credit in his news release for diversifying the Land Office’s portfolio, increasing its asset base and improving conservation efforts.
“By setting the right tone at the top, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with exemplary staff to enhance customer service, direct more money to education and the Land Grant Permanent Fund, and bring a commonsense approach to the conservation of our public lands,” Dunn said.
“At this very moment, Congress is mired down in the same kind of bureaucratic gridlock that I confronted at the Land Office,” he said. “I won’t pull any punches when it comes to turning up the heat and getting results for southern New Mexicans in D.C.”
Dunn’s decision creates an opportunity for a Republican to seek the land commissioner job next year. Two Democrats have announced their candidacies for that office — Ray Powell, who Dunn defeated to win the office in 2014, and Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
This article has been updated.