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'Despicable': Gloves come off in New Mexico GOP House race

"It should say gold digging, not good digging," one candidate said in a reference to a meme about her rival.
Republican House candidate Claire Chase campaigns in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and talks about her plans to support President Donald Trump on Feb. 13, 2020.
Republican House candidate Claire Chase campaigns in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and talks about her plans to support President Donald Trump on Feb. 13, 2020.Russell Contreras / AP file

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A candidate in a contentious Republican U.S. House primary in southern New Mexico is calling for one of her opponents to withdraw amid an increasingly personal and nasty contest.

Oil executive Claire Chase demanded Monday that former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell exit the race over accusations Herrell was pushing false rumors around Chase’s first marriage — charges Herrell vigorously denies.

“This despicable, untrue, and deeply personal attack reveals who Yvette Herrell is as a person, and it isn’t pretty,” Chase said in a statement. “Yvette’s candidacy is no longer viable and she should drop out of this race for the good of the Republican Party.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, retired U.S. Marine Jared Richardson said Herrell called last month after he announced his support for Chase on social media and told him that Chase cheated on her first husband while he was deployed in Afghanistan. But according to Chase, she met her current husband after her divorce and two years following her former husband’s return from deployment.

“She called on two different occasions to spread these (expletive) rumors. Really?” said Richardson, a former Soccorro resident who now lives in Panama City, Florida, while his wife is stationed at the Tyndall Air Force Base. “I found that dirty. Who cares? Stick to the issues.”

Herrel said she called on April 8 to discuss her run for the seat in 2018 — Richardson has supported another GOP candidate — and said Richardson later called her back and accused her of spreading the Chase rumor. “His allegation is 100% false,” Herrell said.

And a text message exchange between a conservative provocateur cartoonist and Herrell shows that the former state lawmaker sought to make copywriting changes to a meme attacking Chase over her first marriage.

According to the text messages obtained by The AP, Herrell offered suggestions about a meme created by Roger Rael that showed Chase with her current husband, Chance Chase, while her former husband, Ben Gray, looked on confused.

“The second Claire is spelled wrong,” Herrell texted back after receiving the meme. “It should say gold digging, not good digging.”

Herrell then writes, “Let me send them in the morning. There are a couple of more.”

Herrell campaign spokesman Paul Smith confirmed that the text messages are authentic but said Herrell was just responding to Rael, who had texted her nonstop.

Rael is facing disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property charges in connection with an alleged attack on a Republican state House candidate. He has pleaded not guilty.

“I have never attempted to use personal rumors about Claire in this race, and will never do so. Neither has my campaign,” said Herrell, who has been divorced twice. “I will take any legal steps necessary to protect myself against libel.”

Late Monday, Herrell added she would not be dropping out of the race. “This is yet another disgraceful and false attack on my character, and we know New Mexico voters will see through these blatant lies,” Herrell said. “The people of our district deserve a race focused on the issues that matter, not sensationalist tabloid media stories.”

Gray, Chase’s first husband, said in a statement he and Chase are still friends and he is a member of the Veterans for Claire coalition and the rumors are false. “I can’t believe Yvette Herrell would try to use me in this false, disgusting attack,” he said. “What kind of person would smear a Veteran to win a political campaign?”

Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys also is seeking the GOP nomination.

University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said the nastiness of the GOP primary will leave the eventual winner so battered and bruised that Republicans will have a hard time going up against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces in the general election.

Torres Small’s campaign is sitting on more than $3 million.