Democrats took back the US House of Representatives Tuesday night. None of the three House seats that were up for grabs in New Mexico flipped, but two of them will be sending new faces to DC.
The districts vacated by Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce, who both gave up their seats to run for governor, were among the most-watched in the nation. Both seats will be filled by women.
It appeared Wednesday morning, however, that the number of votes left to be counted in the 2nd district in Doña Ana County could change what pundits and even the Republican candidate presumed was the outcome of that race. County clerk staff stopped counting absentee ballots before midnight and reported to the Secretary of State's Office that about 4,000 ballots remained unreported.
Political reporter Heath Haussamen, who's headquartered in Las Cruces, says that means the race is still too close to call. Pollster Brian Sanderoff declared Yvette Herrell the winner late Tuesday with a 2,000-vote head start.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-Santa Fe) kept New Mexico's 3rd district, according to early, unofficial results from the Secretary of State's Office. And the only senator on the ballot, Martin Heinrich, won handily.
Debra Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, heads to Washington representing New Mexico's 1st District, and is one of the first Native American women ever in Congress. Democrat Sharice Davids, a member of Ho-Chunk Nation, won a race in Kansas, and Yvette Herrell, who is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, took New Mexico's 2nd District.
In her victory speech, Haaland declared she would be a strong advocate for adapting to and limiting climate change, expanding women's reproductive rights, creating a "humane immigration system" and pushing ahead with early childhood education.
In a conversation with SFR, Haaland said she would advocate for a single-payer system to provide healthcare for all Americans.
"I want every single New Mexican to have health care. I want to make sure everyone has the health care they need," Haaland said.
Her Republican opponent, Janice Arnold-Jones, is a former New Mexico state representative from Albuquerque. She took heat during the race for raising questions about Haaland's Indigenous heritage. Haaland called the comments racist.
Arnold-Jones tells SFR that she was the victim of an ugly campaign, too, but is happy with the campaign she ran. "When you don't have the money of your opponent, you have to work in different ways," Arnold-Jones says.
By far the closest race in the state was the 2nd district. Herrell, a state legislator from Alamogordo, triumphed over water attorney Xochitl Torres Small by a little over 6,500 votes, according to early, unofficial results. The race was one of the tightest in the country.
The Associated Press reported three days before the election the detail that Herrell was an enrolled tribal member. Herrell told the Albuquerque Journal that she wanted "people to vote for me because of my experience, what I bring to the table, not because I have a portion of Native American blood in me."
"I'm going to be talking about New Mexico's shared values for the next two years, and that's what's important," Herrell said in her acceptance speech.
Later, in an interview with SFR, she elaborated, "I'm going to be working closely with colleagues both in our party and outside of our party to make sure we have opportunities to gain prosperity, protect shared values like life and the second amendment, but also work with the [Trump] administration on deregulation and doing business in the state of New Mexico."
In the Senate race, votes split between Heinrich's Republican and Libertarian opponents frayed a coalition that could have meaningfully challenged him. First elected to the seat in 2013, Heinrich has led efforts to create and expand public land in New Mexico and boosted renewable energy.
Republican Senate candidate Mick Rich, a political newcomer and the owner of an Albuquerque-based construction company, billed himself as a "economic nationalist" in the mold of Steve Bannon late in the race, when the latter made a last-minute stop in Roswell to stump for Rich last month.
The entrance of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is now a Libertarian and claimed he was retiring from public life following his 2016 presidential bid, threw the race into disarray for Republicans. Polling about a month ago indicated that Rich might have been in striking distance of Heinrich when combining both Johnson's and Rich's numbers.
"To Gary Johnson's credit, he pulls from both the right and the left," Heinrich told SFR after the race was called.
Reached by phone early in the evening, Lukas Grund of the Johnson campaign said that the Libertarian candidate was not giving any media interviews; he told SFR, "We're letting Gary enjoy the night."
In the last year, incumbent Ben Ray Luján introduced a bill in the House supporting a Medicaid buy-in option, which would allow anybody to obtain health care through the low-income health insurance program regardless of their income. He has supported similar efforts at the state level.
He's also done serious fundraising work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, giving him outsized influence within the party in DC. He defeated two ballot challenges, from Libertarian Chris Manning and Republican Jared McFall.