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Pearce wins New Mexico House seat

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LOS CRUCES, New Mexico (CNN) -- Former state Rep. Steve Pearce defeated Democratic state Sen. John Arthur Smith in the race for New Mexico's open 2nd District seat, CNN projected.

The seat was open because Rep. Joe Skeen, a Republican, retired. In a swing district where Hispanics and other minorities make up a majority of the population, House Democrats had hoped to nominate a Latino candidate, Las Cruces Mayor Ruben Smith. But voters instead chose Smith, a wealthy conservative who strongly favors gun rights and prefers self-financing to fund raising.

Pearce beat two wealthy business leaders, including restaurateur Ed Tinsley, who had garnered Skeen's support. A recent GOP poll showed Pearce leading Smith by 9 percentage points. President Bush traveled to Las Cruces in late August to and raised $350,000 for Pearce, who also was host to House Speaker Dennis Hastert recently.

In the 1st District, Republican Rep. Heather Wilson and Democratic challenger state Senate President Richard Romero were locked in a tight race. Democrats targeted Wilson for defeat because in previous elections, she hadn't won 50 percent of the vote.

Democrats were also hopeful this year because a Green Party candidate did not divert possible support for Romero. The Green Party has fielded strong candidates in the district in the past two elections.

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