SANTA FE — Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez kept the vacant seat in the 3rd Congressional District in the hands of Democrats with a hands-down defeat of her Republican opponent, Alexis M. Johnson, a retired engineer in the oil and gas industry.
Leger Fernandez, 61, will fill the seat being vacated by fellow Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who after 12 years in the position chose to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Tom Udall.
Democrats have held the northern New Mexico congressional seat since 1997.
Results were still unofficial but Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff called the race for Leger Fernandez about 1½ hours after the polls closed. By about 9:30 p.m., results posted on the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website showed Leger Fernandez ahead with 59% of the more than 200,000 votes counted, compared to Johnson’s 41%.
Republican candidates have captured as much as 40% of the vote in the Democratic-dominated northern New Mexico district just once this century.
Leger Fernandez thanked her supporters during an election night Democratic Party event held on Zoom and said she would work for all New Mexicans in Congress.
“For those who did not vote for me, I want to earn your trust,” said Fernandez, who attended Yale and got her law degree at Stanford. “I was trained to be a rebellious lawyer and that means I was trained to listen. I promise to listen to your voice and strategize with you to help us all solve our common problems.”
Leger Fernandez said that as a product of a Headstart program, she could be relied on to work to increase funding for early childhood education, address inequities, fight the coronavirus pandemic and build on the work of her predecessors.
Johnson, a political newcomer, worked to break through the “blue wall” in northern New Mexico by appealing to conservative Democrats with an antiabortion, pro-gun rights message and a rebuke of the progressive wing of the party. During the campaign, she criticized her opponent for being a progressive aligned with “coastal elites” that contributed to Leger Fernandez’s campaign.
The Democrat raised more than $2 million, compared to Johnson’s $140,000, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.
Johnson, who lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and also maintains a home in Santa Fe, made news in July when she was cited for not wearing a mask while campaigning on the Santa Fe plaza in defiance of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and city ordinance.
For Leger Fernandez, a native of Las Vegas, New Mexico, now residing in Santa Fe, this was her first run for political office. But she was well known in Democratic Party circles for her legal work advocating for acequia groups, Native American tribes in New Mexico and party-backed causes. She also served as a White House liaison with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Bill Clinton’s administration and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Leger Fernandez was a heavy favorite in the race after a decisive win in a hotly contested Democratic Party primary election in June.
She was a runaway winner against six other Democrats, including some who came in with better name recognition, like 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna and former CIA spy Valerie Plame.
Johnson was a surprise winner of the Republican primary.
Placing fourth at the Republican Party pre-primary convention with just 11% of the delegate vote, Johnson edged former Democrat Harry Montoya in the June primary by a few hundred votes. That election wasn’t decided until four days after election day due to the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office being overwhelmed with early and absentee ballots brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.