Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico has never elected a woman as land commissioner.
And the nation has never had a Native American woman in Congress.
Both those possibilities moved a little closer to reality in Tuesday’s primary election – when women swept all five statewide and federal races in New Mexico that featured at least one female candidate.
Women also enjoyed success farther down the ballot in legislative races, winning six of the eight contested primaries that featured a female candidate.
“This authenticity – I think people are just craving that right now in politics,” said state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, who won the Democratic nomination for land commissioner over two male candidates. “They are craving someone they can relate to, and I feel like the people who won represent that for the voters.”
The success of women wasn’t just a Democratic phenomenon. State Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo won the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District, grabbing 49 percent of the vote in a race against three men.
Herrell is now lined up for a general-election showdown against another woman, Xochitl Torres Small, a Las Cruces water attorney who took the Democratic nomination.
The race to represent the 1st Congressional District will also feature two women. Deb Haaland will face Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton.
Former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Haaland won 41 percent of the vote in a large field that featured another strong female candidate, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.
Haaland will become the first Native American woman elected to the U.S. House if she wins this fall.
‘A lot of clout’
Most of Tuesday’s action was on the Democratic side, where there were far more contested primaries.
And women are always a powerful force in the Democratic primary, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. They sometimes make up 60 percent of the electorate, he said.
“As a group,” Sanderoff said, “they have a lot of clout, especially in years when they tend to favor a particular candidate.”
This year’s campaign, of course, has come amid a nationwide reckoning over sexual harassment of women. The Roundhouse itself has been rocked by allegations of harassment and other inappropriate behavior, especially targeting female lobbyists.
One legislator on Tuesday’s ballot, Rep. Carl Trujillo, faces an internal House investigation into allegations made by a woman who accused him of propositioning her, touching her inappropriately and retaliating when she rejected his advances. Trujillo says the allegations are politically motivated lies.
He lost his re-election bid Tuesday to an opponent from his own party, Andrea Romero, an entrepreneur from Santa Fe. She took 53 percent of the vote over Trujillo, a business owner and scientist from Nambé.
Romero said Tuesday that a candidate’s stance on the issues is more important than gender.
But, “I think, in general, women are qualified – they’re ready,” she said. “They’re just stepping up, feeling empowered to make changes and standing up for what they believe in.”
Heading into the fall, Democrats will have a woman at the top of their statewide ticket.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s leaving Congress to run for governor, won a three-way race to secure the Democratic nomination. She received 66 percent of the vote, easily outpacing two male candidates.
Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that voters have started to realize female candidates typically have a certain skill set, including strong communication and negotiation skills.
“The research is pretty clear – women operate in this world a little differently,” she told reporters.
In the general election, Lujan Grisham will face U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who’s also leaving his seat in Congress.
There’s no incumbent in the gubernatorial race. Republican Susana Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor, cannot run because of term limits.
Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the GOP is no stranger to electing strong female leaders.
“Republicans led this movement back in 2010 by electing the first woman governor in New Mexico’s history,” he said in a written statement. “Republicans will continue to lead the way in 2018 with Yvette Herrell, who will become the first woman to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district.”
Total turnout in the primary was strong, with 28 percent of voters eligible to vote casting ballots. That’s 8 percentage points higher than in 2014, the most recent midterm election.
According to unofficial returns, 111,778 people voted early or absentee this year, and 149,199 turned out on Election Day. Total turnout was 260,977.
Only Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians could vote in Tuesday’s primary election.
Here’s a look at some of the key races with female candidates:
• Garcia Richard narrowly won the Democratic primary for state land commissioner over two better-funded male candidates, with 39 percent of the vote.
She will be the first female nominee of a major party in the land commissioner race, she said.
In the fall, Garcia Richard will compete against Republican Pat Lyons, a former land commissioner, and Libertarian Michael Lucero, a rancher.
• Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque and House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces, both Democrats, defeated male challengers.
• Micaela Lara Cadena beat two other female candidates to win the Democratic nomination in House District 33, setting up a general-election contest against Republican Charles Wendler for an open seat that includes parts of Las Cruces and Mesilla.
• Retiree Susan Herrera defeated Rep. Debbie Rodella, a 25-year House veteran, in the Democratic primary in House District 41. She faces no opposition this fall.
• Christine Chandler won the Democratic nomination for an open seat in the Los Alamos-area House District 43, setting up a fall contest against Republican Lisa Shin.
• Republican Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon, will face Democrat Jessica Velasquez, an educator and business owner, in the fall. Schmedes beat Merritt Hamilton Allen, the daughter of former state Rep. Dianne Hamilton, for the Republican nomination in East Mountains-based House District 22.
• Democrat Joseph L. Sanchez is expected to face former state Rep. Tweeti Blancett, who’s running as an independent, in the fall. Sanchez defeated Paula Garcia and another candidate to win the Democratic nomination for an open seat in northern New Mexico House District 40.
Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.