ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is sending an all-female U.S. House delegation to Congress, including a Republican who defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in what was one of the most watched races in the nation.
The contest between former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell and the first-term Democratic congresswoman was a 2018 rematch that was decided by turnout. Voter participation in the Democrat-leaning state broke records, as new Republican registrations in the 2nd District outpaced Democrats.
In the other two races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland was reelected in the 1st District and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won an open seat in the 3rd District to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who won his U.S. Senate race.
Herrell embraced televised debates, proclaimed her support for the oil and gas industry and repeatedly slammed Torres Small over her vote to impeach President Donald Trump. Herrell also broadened her campaign beyond the more conservative strongholds that make up the sprawling district.
Trump and other big-name Republicans campaigned virtually for Herrell in recent weeks, and the region’s most lucrative industry — oil and gas — became a hot issue as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden waffled on the subject. He said early on that he opposed fracking only to be corrected by his campaign and then later suggested he would ban new drilling permits on federal land.
The issue of energy development is important in New Mexico, which is home to part of one of the world’s richest oil and natural gas basins. Revenue from the industry underpins the state budget and supports tens of thousands of jobs.
Herrell embraced Trump’s border wall strategy and promoted her pro-petroleum philosophy in her bid to unseat Torres Small. She also tried to draw parallels between her opponent and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with ads focused on Torres Small’s voting record and ties to gun control activists flooding the airwaves during the campaign’s final days.
Torres Small attempted to portray herself as a moderate who opposed her party’s line on certain issues, like banning fracking and limiting oil and gas development on federal land.
Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016, and GOP voters were again energized during this presidential election cycle. Torres Small had won the district in 2018 by a slim margin during a Democratic wave.
While Torres Small maintained a fundraising edge throughout the race, Herrell received a surge in donations during the third quarter. She raised more than $1 million — one of the biggest fundraising quarters for a Republican congressional candidate in state history.
Herrell said it would be the honor of a lifetime to serve the district.
“My commitment to each citizen of our district is that I will serve each of them with integrity as we work together to rebuild our economy and protect the values that make America great,” she said.
The election also marked another milestone because in all of the U.S. House races, at least one Latina or one Native American woman was on the ballot, making for some of the most diverse political battles in the U.S.
In northern New Mexico, Leger Fernandez defeated Republican engineer Alexis Johnson in an open race. Leger Fernandez’s campaign was backed by a long list of advocacy groups for progressive causes and greater Latina representation in Congress.
Leger Fernandez becomes the first woman to hold the 3rd District seat since its creation in 1983. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 in the district, which overlaps portions of the Navajo Nation and includes other Native American communities.
Surrounded by family, Leger Fernandez told supporters watching online that she considered each vote in support of her campaign a statement of trust. She vowed Tuesday night to also earn the trust of those who did not vote for her, saying she would listen and strategize with them.
In the district that includes Albuquerque, Haaland, one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, won reelection against Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes. Haaland, a former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, campaigned as a vocal critic of the Trump administration.
Garcia Holmes, a former police detective, embraced Trump’s law-and-order agenda. She visited Tuesday with voters in a majority Hispanic district in Albuquerque and said New Mexicans are tired of the poverty and dismal educational outcomes that persist in the Democrat-led state.