Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A day after she lost a spirited, but unsuccessful, run for the vacant seat in the 3rd Congressional District, Republican Alexis Johnson wasn’t sure about her political future.
“At this point, I really haven’t considered anything,” Johnson, who was making her first run for political office, said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she has a home. “For me, right now, it’s more about being around family and seeking support from God.”
Johnson’s response was to a direct question about whether she would run again for the same seat, this time as the true challenger to Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won 58.6% of the vote in a district long held by Democrats.
The two were vying in the general election for the seat being vacated by Ben Ray Luján, who held the position for the past 12 years, giving it up for a successful bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Tom Udall.
Johnson added that what she does know is that she’ll remain active in the community, in some way promoting family values and advocating for issues impacting women, especially Hispanic women.
Johnson let on that she felt slighted during the campaign when she saw news reports about how New Mexico could have an all-woman-of-color House delegation if Leger Fernandez won.
“Time and again, I had to email editors and ask them, ‘Could you mention that I am also a women of color?’ ” said Johnson, who is of Hispanic and Native American descent.
Johnson’s name appeared on the ballot as “Alexis M. Johnson,” the “M” standing for Martinez.
While she often included her maiden name while campaigning, her Hispanic heritage wasn’t obvious to voters in the district, which demographically breaks down as 41% Hispanic, 37% white and 18% Native American.
“I’ve heard that gives you points, but I made the decision early on to go with my husband’s name,” she said when asked if she wished she had used her full name throughout the campaign.
Maybe next time … if there is a next time.
Johnson, a retired engineer who worked in the oil and gas industry, acknowledged she felt disappointment after her loss. But she could still take satisfaction that she gave it her best shot and did better than many people expected.
“This was my first foray into politics,” she said, adding that she had already defied the odds by winning the Republican Party primary in June.
Johnson had no name recognition, no track record and no money when she entered the race, but came out on top. And though she lost decisively to Leger Fernandez in the general election, she could take some solace in capturing 41.4% of the vote and maybe moving the needle toward the GOP.
Only twice in the 38-year history of the district (where elections are conducted every two years) has a Republican candidate got a higher share of the vote, and not since 2010. The 130,950 votes she got was the most ever cast for a Republican in the district race. Though it was a high turnout year for voters, her vote total exceeded the number Luján received while defending his seat in 2010 and 2014.
“I think we’re making some forward progress,” she said when asked if she felt she advanced the cause for the Republican Party in northern New Mexico. “There’s definitely potential to make more movement.
“It will take time,” she added. “Maybe another election cycle or two, because we’re talking about homes where there have been generations of Democrats.”
Johnson, who made mask-wearing in public during the coronavirus pandemic an issue when she was cited for violating a city ordinance while campaigning on the Santa Fe Plaza without wearing a mask, focused her campaign primarily on what she described as traditional, northern New Mexico family values.
While the 3rd Congressional District is diverse, it is anchored by the north-central region, heavily populated by Hispanic families, some dating back eight or 10 generations.
“I bring out that old school New Mexico, where you sought out the wisdom of the patron system, where you’d seek guidance from faith. That’s how it used to be in New Mexico politics,” she said, adding the influence of women in the culture also should not be disregarded.
Johnson, who follows the Catholic faith, also tried to appeal to conservative voters with her anti-abortion stance. And she appealed to many rural New Mexicans with her pro-gun rights position. She actually won 7 of the 16 counties that make up the district, including the less populated and more rural Curry, Colfax, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt, San Juan and Union counties.
She also railed against progressive Democrats, and included her opponent in that group. She thinks that many voters in the district are adverse to the positions of the “radical left,” such as the Green New Deal.
“We have to ask ourselves, do our current values match up with the party?” she asked, adding that she thinks she may have been able to get some conservative Democrats to switch allegiances. “I think that my presence in this race has shown people that they do have a home in the Republican Party.”