SANTA FE — At least seven state lawmakers — including some of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate — were locked in tight races or trailed their challengers in Tuesday’s primary election, according to partial, unofficial returns.
The results could push the Senate’s Democratic caucus to the left, with a host of Democrats who had opposed an abortion rights measure last year trailing more liberal candidates.
Siah Correa Hemphill, a school psychologist from Silver City, for example, defeated incumbent Sen. Gabriel Ramos for the Democratic nomination in a district stretching from Socorro across much of southwestern New Mexico, according to unofficial returns.
And Sen. Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente lost to his opponent, Leo Jaramillo, a Rio Arriba County commissioner, for the Democratic nomination.
Also in danger was Democrat John Arthur Smith, chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee. He was behind Neomi Martinez-Parra, a licensed special education teacher, by nine percentage points, according to partial, unofficial returns.
Clemente Sanchez, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, appeared headed toward defeat, too.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces was locked in a close race, but trailed her opponent.
All five Democratic senators opposed a 2019 bill that sought to repeal an anti-abortion law.
The races come after an unusual campaign season interrupted by the pandemic in mid-March and civil unrest over the past week.
“I’ve never been more motivated to help ensure funding for essential services,” Correa Hemphill said Tuesday night.
After defeating Ramos, she will advance to face Republican James Williams in the general election.
On the Republican side, meanwhile, state Rep. David Gallegos was poised to join the Senate after beating incumbent Sen. Gregg Fulfer, who was appointed to the seat in 2018. No Democrat is running in the district, which covers Eunice, Jal and part of Hobbs.
Gallegos, senior superintendent for a construction company, doesn’t face a Democratic or Libertarian opponent in the fall. He said he was grateful voters chose him in Tuesday’s election.
“It was a really long, hard and ugly campaign,” Gallegos said.
New Mexico voters headed to the polls Tuesday with a chance to reshape the state Legislature, with 20 incumbents facing a primary challenge for their party’s nomination.
All 112 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot this year. Democrats hold a 46-24 edge in the House and 26-16 majority in the Senate.
Among the key races to watch Tuesday involved five Democratic incumbents in the Senate — all targeted by a coalition of left-leaning groups and activists backing candidates trying to unseat them.
Papen, a retired auto dealer from Las Cruces, was challenged by Carrie Hamblen, CEO and president of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. Hamblen had a lead of about four percentage points, according to partial returns.
Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, was opposed Tuesday by Martinez-Parra in a district covering Deming, Truth or Consequences and the Bootheel area.
Sanchez substantially trailed retired teacher Pam Cordova, a former president of the New Mexico Federation of Democratic Women, in the race for the Democratic nomination in a district that covers parts of Valencia and three other counties, according to partial election results.
Two other incumbents were targeted in the campaign — George Muñoz of Gallup and Ramos of Silver City. Muñoz had a healthy lead over his opponent, Noreen Ann Kelly, according to partial returns.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Jim White, meanwhile, also trailed his opponent, Rep. Gregg Schmedes, albeit in a close race for the Republican nomination in a Senate district covering the Sandia foothills and East Mountains.
Eleven seats in the Legislature are open this year — either because the incumbents chose not to seek reelection or were disqualified from the ballot.
In Senate District 20, held by the retiring Republican Whip William Payne of Albuquerque, four Democrats and two Republicans were seeking the nomination.
Retired physician Martin Hickey and film location manager Rebecca “Puck” Stair were in a tight race for the Democratic nomination in the district, with former state Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, and retired scientist and educator Nancy Savage rounding out the field, according to partial, unofficial results.
On the Republican side, John C. Morton, a retired Air Force intelligence analyst, had a lead over Karin Foster, a lawyer and former prosecutor.
Three northern New Mexico-based House seats — now held by outgoing Democrats Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, Daniel Barrone of Taos and Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe — are also open and have attracted a total of more than a dozen candidates.
Roger Montoya of Velarde won the Democratic nomination over Matthew Gonzales to succeed Sanchez in House District 40, according to unofficial results. The winner will face Republican Justin Salazar-Torrez in the general election.