LAS CRUCES — In a debate with a bit of everything, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson claimed an alliance with President Obama on the worthiness of coal mining.

Her opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, said cutbacks in federal agencies that would be hard for many in his party to stomach were a necessary fact of life.

Wilson, 51, began the night by wishing Heinrich a happy 41st birthday and later giving him cupcakes, but most of the night’s pleasantries ended there.

Behind in the polls, Wilson pounded away on her theme that Heinrich’s vote as a congressman to cut military spending and other programs by $1.2 trillion had imperiled  20,000 jobs in New Mexico.

Heinrich had a fast reply, saying he made the exact same decision as one of Wilson’s supporters, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The vote was  to prevent a default and world economic crisis, Heinrich said.

A congressman for four years, he said he had a fine record of fighting for New Mexico’s Air Force bases and labs. His campaign sent out examples while the two debated, including Heinrich’s work in delaying the retirement of more than 200 fighter jets, 21 of them flown by a wing of the New Mexico National Guard.
About 200 people sat through the hour-long debate at the Dona Ana County government building, and a few violated the rule against jeering the candidates.

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Heinrich stirred the Republican side of the room to groans when he said climate change had contributed to a season of terrible forest fires in New Mexico.

But Heinrich stuck to his position, saying he had a personal history as a logger. Temperatures are higher and humidity levels lower in forests than they were 20 or 30 years ago, he said.

Wilson’s opposition to gay marriage — based on procreation and raising children — elicited hoots from the Democrats’ section.