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Torres Small, Herrell to face off for congressional seat in GOP stronghold

Xochitl Torres Small and Rep. Yvette Herrell

Xochitl Torres Small and Rep. Yvette Herrell.

Democratic candidate Xochitl Torres Small will face Republican state Rep. Yvette Herrell after both women claimed victory in the 2nd Congressional District primary election.

Torres Small, a water rights attorney in Las Cruces, held a commanding lead in the  race for her party’s nomination against Madeline Hildebrand, a Coast Guard veteran. “I’m incredibly humbled and inspired by the outpouring of support from those across southern New Mexico who are eager for change,” Torres Small said.

Herrell won a hard-fought battle against Monty Newman, former mayor of Hobbs, in the four-person GOP race.

“For months, we have shared our vision that the only way to fix a broken Washington is to ensure that strong conservative New Mexican values represent us,” said Herrell, who thanked her opponents for running “spirited campaigns.”

Republican candidates Gavin Clarkson and Clayburn Griffin trailed the field.

It was the decision by longtime U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce not to seek re-election that led to a crowded field of contenders — four Republicans and two Democrats.

The possibility of flipping a seat that has been held by Republicans for all but two years since 1981 may have led to a higher voter turnout.

In Doña Ana County, which includes Las Cruces and more registered Democratic voters, there was a 59 percent increase in voter turnout Tuesday compared with the 2014 primary election, which included a similar slate of candidates.

“I’m very excited to see such a huge increase,” said Scott Krahling, Doña Ana County clerk.

Torres Small used her experience working as a field organizer for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

“We focused on running a very strong get-out-the-vote campaign right up until 7 o’clock,” she said Tuesday night.

She also had the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “red to blue” effort, which promotes promising candidates who will go on to challenge Republicans in the midterm elections in November.

“Her candidacy puts this seat on the map and represents the best opportunity to flip this seat in nearly a decade,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for the 3rd Congressional District.

Both Torres Small and Hildebrandt were first-time candidates and among a record number of women seeking office this year.

Herrell, the only Republican woman, had strong name recognition in southern New Mexico after serving eight years in the state Legislature.

Voter turnout has traditionally been higher in Republican regions of the 2nd Congressional District. But early voting numbers in heavily Republican Lea County, which includes Hobbs, showed a sharp decline.

The 2nd Congressional District, among the largest in the country, has been a Republican stronghold for decades.

There are slightly more registered Democratic voters, 40 percent, than Republicans, 36 percent, but “conservative Democrats” have impacted results at the ballot box in the past, according to political analyst Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.

On Tuesday night, both women quickly shifted their campaigns to the general election.

“We look towards November, united as one party, to ensure that this district continues to have a true conservative representing it,” Herrell said.

“It’s clear, Washington does not get our way of life here in southern New Mexico,” Torres Small said. “Too many politicians forget who they’re fighting for and when they get to Washington, they don’t represent our values.

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