ALBUQUERQUE — After 19 months of campaigning, U.S. Senate candidates Heather Wilson and Martin Heinrich finally go head to head tonight in a televised debate.

Republican Wilson is trailing Democratic U.S. Rep. Heinrich in voter surveys. But she said 10 percent of polls are reliable and the only one that matters is the November election.

Heinrich and Wilson will debate four times in all. Heinrich said the strategy that lifted him in the polls will not change one bit in any of the debates.

"I'm going to keep talking about the things that matter. People trust me to fight for Medicare and Social Security, to look out for working people," he said in an interview.

Heinrich has been hitting Wilson for the last several days for signing the "cut, cap and balance pledge," which she has described as a move toward fiscal responsibility for the federal government. Heinrich, though, said those taking the pledge would open the way for deep cuts as much as 25 percent in Medicare and Social Security.

He has made protection of those programs a cornerstone of his campaign.

Heinrich also went on the offensive Wednesday regarding matters of judgment and spending. His camp sent out a statement reminding voters that Wilson, as a congresswoman, voted exactly 10 years ago for the war in Iraq.

Heinrich's organization even sent quotes from Wilson in 2002, when she said that Iraq "possesses and is further developing weapons of mass destruction" to use against America.

Wilson said she looked forward to her first debate with Heinrich in a campaign that began in the winter of 2011, after 30-year incumbent Sen. Jeff Bingaman abruptly announced that he would not run for re-election.

Wilson said she relished her first opportunity to discuss issues face to face with Heinrich. She said he had not accepted other opportunities for joint appearances.

Heinrich said he agreed with no hesitation to the four scheduled debates, all sandwiched around his other campaign appearances across the state. He said this was an ample number for voters to evaluate the candidates.

For Wilson, a preeminent issue heading into the debate is how best to foster economic growth.

She served in Congress for 10 years before losing a U.S. Senate primary in 2008. Sitting Republicans in Congress have called Wilson the candidate who would best protect the state's labs and Air Force bases during a time of likely cutbacks to tighten federal spending.

Santa Fe Bureau Chief Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@tnmnp.com or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com