Drama, tension elsewhere, but northern NM’s ‘blue wall’ stands

Teresa Leger Fernandez watches election results with her twin sons Abelino Fernandez-Leger, left, and Dario, right, both 20, at her home in Santa Fe Tuesday night. Leger Fernandez won the seat in northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

As this editorial was being written late last week, there was plenty of political drama playing out.

In the presidential election, key swing state results were trending toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden as vote-counting continued, but nothing was certain. President Donald Trump’s crew had filed legal attacks against the validity of various vote tallies as his supporters – in a “you can’t make this stuff up” moment – were simultaneously chanting “stop the count” where Trump was clinging to a small lead and “count the votes” where he was behind.

Many Democrats were stunned by the lack of a “blue wave” that pollsters and many liberal pundits – we suggest reviewing MSNBC’s ebullient programming from last Monday night – were promising would hand control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats and impose generational, blue-dominated change on the national electoral map.

There were no shocking results in New Mexico. But, on the Democratic side, there will be lasting tension over the state’s slide a bit back toward purple after going bright blue in the past couple of election cycles. The Republicans won back the congressional seat that had been held by a Democrat for a single two-year term in traditionally red southern New Mexico. And while Democrat Ben Ray Luján, the longtime U.S. House member from northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, did win New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat, his 52% portion of the vote was underwhelming.

But in the races that played out within the cozy, adobe confines of El Norte – north central New Mexico – there was absolutely NO drama. Democrats, as usual, won easy and everywhere.

As noted in this space previously, the GOP in this election year at least made a show of putting up some resistance around here, in the form of candidates on the ballot for legislative positions usually left to Dems alone.

Santa Fe state senators Peter Wirth and Nancy Rodriguez still racked up more than 80% in their races against GOP “challengers.”

While Republicans made some gains in rural districts in other parts of New Mexico, Democrats on Tuesday likewise won by their standard big margins in non-urban Senate districts of the north – Leo Jaramillo in a district around Española, with 68%, veteran Sen. Pete Campos around Las Vegas, with 65%, and Liz Stefanics in her wide-ranging District 39, with 55%.

North House races were also runaways. First-time candidate Kristina Ortez, a Democrat, blasted the Republican mayor of Red River by taking 74% of the vote in Taos County’s District 42. Democrat Roger Montoya, beloved for his community program in Española that empowers young people through dance and the arts, got 57% in House District 40, which extends over the mountains to Mora, despite the election-season revelation that he’d appeared in porn films decades ago as a struggling actor in his 20s.

Democrat District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler beat her Republican opponent with 61% in Los Alamos, which until recent years was a GOP stronghold. This time, though, Los Alamos didn’t go totally blue from the top of the ballot to the bottom, as it did in 2018. Los Alamos County again voted overwhelmingly Democratic in all federal and state races, including for judgeships. But in a six-candidate contest for three Los Alamos County Council seats, a Republican nabbed one seat by coming in second. Democrats finished first and third to get the other two positions.

(We’ll say again today that having someone at the top of the Republican ticket who believes and advocates for science just might go a long way toward recovery of the GOP in the home of the nation’s pre-eminent science laboratory.)

In northern New Mexico’s open congressional race, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez, as expected, trounced Republican Alexis Johnson 59% to 41%.

Don’t call the 2020 Democratic victories in El Norte a blue wave. They merely represent retention of the status quo.

Republicans continue to say they believe there is a substantial storehouse of conservatism in northern New Mexico, particularly among local Catholics, on the abortion issue that someday can be tapped for election victories.

What is clear at this point is that it will take something more than merely listing candidates on the ballot – such as money, maybe – for Republicans to make a dent in New Mexico’s version of the “blue wall.”

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