(CNN) – Former Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico sought to draw a sharp contrast Wednesday with her Democratic opponent in the state's heated U.S. Senate race, painting her opponent, Rep. Martin Heinrich, as a politician too eager to expand the scope of government.
"He believes in high taxes and more debt and big government, and that's just not who I am," Wilson told reporters at a meeting hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate's GOP campaign arm.
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The race, held to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, features two high-profile figures in the state. A former Air Force officer and White House official under President George H.W. Bush, Wilson served as a U.S. congresswoman from 1998 until 2009. She also worked as a cabinet member in former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's administration.
Heinrich, meanwhile, was elected to Congress in 2008 after serving as president of the Albuquerque City Council and as Natural Resources Trustee for the state. Both candidates won their party primaries by wide margins earlier this year.
So far the two candidates are fairly even in terms of fund-raising, with Wilson pulling in $4 million by the end of June compared to Heinrich's $3.9 million. The Democrat, however, has slightly more cash on hand with $1.7 million to Wilson's $1.6 million.
With polls indicating the race to be close–Heinrich generally maintains a slight advantage–the contest is expected to one of the more closely-watched Senate contests this fall, especially as Republicans eye the election as a chance to pick up a seat in the chamber.
Wilson, who ran further to the right during the primary, labels herself an independent voice, saying she would oppose some Republican ideas, such as the privatization of Social Security. She's also not shy in pointing out the fact that she was a Democrat until her 20s.
Asked if she supported the controversial Republican budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wilson said she had "concerns" about the plan but did not elaborate on specific points with which she disagreed.
"I haven't looked at his bill in a long time," she said, emphasizing that she's running for the Senate, not the House, and noted the chamber's failure to produce a budget in three years.
Heinrich's campaign, however, said Wilson has waited far too long to take a position on the budget.
"It's been 464 days and she still hasn't made up her mind about the Ryan budget that guts Medicare-that's not leadership," said Whitney Potter, a spokeswoman for Heinrich. "If Heather Wilson won't refute conservative attacks on Medicare on the campaign trail, how can she be trusted to stand up to the Republican Tea Party agenda in Washington?
And while Wilson hits Heinrich as a supporter of tax increases, Heinrich argues his opponent, who voted for the Bush-era tax cuts while in Congress, would side with "millionaires and billionaires at the expense of New Mexico's middle class."
The congressman supports President Barack Obama's proposal to end the tax breaks for households making more than $250,000 a year.
"There are several reasons that we must end the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, but chief among them is the simple reason that we can't afford it," Heinrich said in a statement last week. "We followed Heather Wilson and George W. Bush down that road already, and America's middle class paid the price while the wealthy consolidated their grip on power."
Wilson made headlines last month when becoming one of the first Republican candidates up for election this cycle to announce she would not attend the GOP convention in Tampa this August, citing a need to stay in the state and campaign. On Wednesday, Wilson further defended her decision, saying it was personal, not politics.
The former congresswoman added she expects energy to be a top area of contention in the race and faulted her opponent for being "way out on the extreme of his own party" on the issue.
"He wants large swaths of land to be wilderness and road-less," she said, making the case, along with many Republicans, that tapping into the state's resources could boost the economy and create jobs.
A number of conservation groups, however, have thrown their money into the race against Wilson. The League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife Action Committee, and the Sierra Club have all dropped dollars in New Mexico, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Meanwhile, American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, has spent hundreds of thousands in support of the Republican candidate.
With Hispanics comprising a large component of New Mexico's voting population, immigration also comes up as an issue in the race. Wilson, however, said she did not support the recent Obama administration policy to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, as long as they meet certain requirements.
Wilson criticized the rule for failing to be a "permanent solution" and argued it was "unlikely that a lot of people" would take advantage of the new policy.
The candidates are scheduled to hold their next debate in October.