Democrat Xochitl Torres Small surged to a stunning, last-minute victory Wednesday evening against Republican Yvette Herrell for the 2nd Congressional District seat as her home county of Doña Ana pushed her over the top.
It represented a surprising turn of events. Not only was the district sending a woman to Washington for the first time in its 50-year history. It was sending a Democratic woman of color from Doña Ana County.
What a difference 24 hours makes. Herrell had appeared headed to victory Tuesday evening, even giving a victory speech to supporters in Alamogordo.
Torres Small refused to concede, however, saying not all votes had been counted.
Her instinct was correct.
Torres Small's victory adds another seat to the number Democrats have collected in their successful quest to gain leadership the U.S. House. The candidates and outside groups had spent more than $12 million in the hotly contested race.
The vote tally, according to the Secretary of State website, was 99,440 to 96,712 — or 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent. Torres Small's margin of victory does not trigger New Mexico's automatic recount provision because it represented well more than one-quarter of one percent of votes cast.
Herrell can request a recount, but she and her campaign would have to pay for it, Secretary of State spokesperson Alex Curtas said Wednesday evening in an email.
Observers long said the race could be a nail biter and it didn't disappoint, with the margin between Herrell and Torres Small on Tuesday seemingly about who turned out more voters.
Late Tuesday night, there was still about half of 8,000 ballots to tabulate when the newly appointed County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin decided to stop counting. All absentee ballots had to be counted and submitted in a batch, so the results of those final votes were not available until Wednesday evening, when they were submitted to the New Mexico Secretary of State's office.
Pollster Brian Sanderhoff told NMID earlier that Doña Ana County would have to come out big in both turnout and margins for Torres Small if she was to prevail — and it did.
The 2nd Congressional District, perhaps the premier race in New Mexico, given the national attention and the big money that fueled incessant harsh attack ads and mailers, was beginning to look like the contest that got away amid Democratic dominance this election.
After Tuesday, Democrats controlled all seven statewide seats and four of the five federal posts.
Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard had drubbed Republican Pat Lyons in the state land commissioner race to become the first woman in state history to fill the post.
Democrat Deb Haaland became one of the first two Native American women ever to go to Congress. Democrats also won the governor's mansion, four appellate court races and expanded their numbers in the state House, knocking off several GOP state lawmakers.
But the 2nd Congressional District was elusive.
Until Wednesday evening, that is, when thousands of Doña Ana County ballots propelled Torres Small to victory.