SANTA FE — Democratic candidates made breakthroughs in three Republican-held state Senate seats in the Albuquerque area on Tuesday as voters determined the makeup of New Mexico’s Legislature for the next several years.
Republicans, in turn, won two Democratic-held Senate seats in southern and central New Mexico by defeating progressive Democrats who had ousted more moderate incumbents in the June primary election.
If the partial, unofficial results hold up, Democrats would gain one seat in the Senate — pushing their advantage to 27-15 — and lose three seats in the House, dropping their edge to 43-26, with one independent. At least one of the House races, though, looked headed toward a recount because it was so close.
The Albuquerque area emerged as a key battleground this year as Democrats pushed for gains in the Northeast Heights, North Valley and West Side.
Three Democrats posted victories in GOP-held Senate seats, according to unofficial election returns:
■ Physician Martin Hickey defeated Republican John Morton in a Northeast Heights and foothills-based district — Senate District 20 — that has been represented by Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, who is not seeking re-election.
“We took everything we had and put it on the table, and now it’s up to the voters,” Hickey said late Tuesday.
■ Attorney Katy Duhigg ousted Republican incumbent Candace Gould in Senate District 10 that covers parts of northwest Albuquerque, the city’s North Valley and Rio Rancho.
■ Retired Air Force officer Harold Pope Jr. edged Republican Sen. Sander Rue in the Senate District 23 seat on Albuquerque’s West Side. Pope, if elected, would be New Mexico’s first African American state senator.
Republicans, in turn, picked up seats in more rural areas, including a hotly contested race to succeed Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith in New Mexico. The campaign — the most expensive legislative race in the state this year — featured Republican Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, who defeated Smith in the primary election. Diamond ended up posting a decisive victory Tuesday over Martinez-Parra in the Senate District 35 race.
GOP candidate Joshua Sanchez of Bosque also emerged victorious against Democrat Pam Cordova of Rio Communities in the race for Senate District 30, a sprawling district currently held by Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants.
Voters also elected the first independent candidate to the state Legislature. Brittney Barreras — who has no party affiliation but said she plans to caucus with Democrats — had a substantial lead for the South Valley-based House District 12 seat over Democrat Art De La Cruz, who was running as a write in, according to partial, unofficial returns.
She will succeed Democratic Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, who was disqualified from the ballot.
Meanwhile, Republican Luis Terrazas of Silver City ousted Democratic Rep. Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez of Bayard in House District 39, and Republican Ricky Little, a former legislator, had a seven-vote lead over Democratic Rep. Willie Madrid of Chaparral — a close enough margin to require an automatic recount under state law.
With all 112 legislative seats on the ballot, Democrats entered Election Day looking to expand their 26-16 advantage in the Senate and 46-24 majority in the House with the once-per-decade task of redistricting looming next year.
At stake in the legislative elections were proposals dealing with abortion, cannabis legalization and taking more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to expand early childhood programs. Bills on those issues have stalled in recent legislative sessions but could find smoother sailing if Democrats are able to hold or expand their majorities.
Meanwhile, voters had more choices in this year’s legislative races than in past election cycles since only 29 districts featured candidates running unopposed — 20 in the House and nine in the Senate.