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‘Blue wave’ washes over Northeast Heights neighborhoods

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The neighborhoods closest to the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque are often the kinds of places in which Republicans run up victories of 10 percentages points or more.

But the “blue wave” in New Mexico washed away those margins Tuesday as voters rejected Republican incumbents and favored Democratic candidates repeatedly, even in the traditionally conservative Northeast Heights and foothills.

Albuquerque – once a battleground for swing voters – was at the center of Tuesday’s shake-up in state politics, when Duke City voters helped deliver victories to Democrats in every statewide race and handed them enormous gains in the state House.

Experts in polling and political science say it’s part of a long-term trend: Albuquerque is, indeed, performing more and more like urban areas in other parts of the country, they say, with increasing support for Democrats.

But that doesn’t mean New Mexico’s largest city will keep Republicans out of statewide offices forever, they say.

“The Democrats performed better than their wildest dreams in the Legislature, by flipping those far Northeast Heights seats,” Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said. “Will the pendulum swing back when the circumstances are right? Of course.”

Timothy Krebs, a University of New Mexico professor who studies urban politics, said that across the country, urban areas are trending more blue and rural areas more red – a kind of “sorting” of the population.

“Nationally,” Krebs said, “there is some evidence that where people choose to live reflects their general outlook on politics. They want to live by people who are like-minded, who are similar.”

The results in Tuesday’s election were stark.

Seven of Albuquerque’s seats in the state House flipped from Republican to Democratic control, according to unofficial results. The outcomes could change as recounts and canvassing move forward before the results are certified.

But it looks like Albuquerque’s delegation to the state House may move from a 12-8 split favoring Democrats in recent sessions to 19-1 next year, with Republican Rep. Bill Rehm the lone Albuquerque Republican in the House.

Women also made gains. They made up half of Albuquerque’s delegation in the most recent session but are in position to hold 13 of the 20 city-based seats next year.

In statewide races, Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard became the first woman to win the State Land Office.

Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat who defeated Republican Rep. Jimmie Hall in Albuquerque, said she worked hard to focus on what the community members said they wanted, not necessarily politics, as she knocked on thousands of doors.

“I think people were just really hungry to have someone listen and engage,” she said.

Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the Democratic gains aren’t a permanent shift in state politics.

“The political environment is highly volatile,” he said.

Just four years ago, Republicans won a majority in the state House and re-elected Republican Gov. Susana Martinez by 14 percentage points.

This year, turnout was high on both sides, Cangiolosi said, but Democrats were helped by the national environment, as the party that controls the White House tends to lose seats in midterm elections.

Republican candidates saw their raw vote totals go up this year in a variety of races – just not enough to keep pace with the increased participation by Democrats, he said.

“Across the country, we saw Democratic enthusiasm was through the roof in urban areas,” Cangiolosi said, “and the Albuquerque area was no exception.”

Democrats are in line to pick up eight seats in the state House, according to unofficial returns. Democrats held a 38-32 majority in recent sessions, so they could move to a 46-24 split.

But there are also two races that are within the margin for an automatic recount:

⋄  Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque trailed his Democratic challenger, Abbas Akhil, by about 80 votes, or less than 1 percentage point.

⋄  Democratic Rep. George Dodge of Santa Rosa trailed his Republican opponent, Martin Zamora of Clovis, by 28 votes, or about half of 1 percentage point.

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