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Wilson Declares Victory; Democrats Vow Fight To End

By Tim Korte/
Associated Press
      Republican incumbent Heather Wilson declared victory late Thursday in her bid for re-election in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, but supporters of Democrat Patricia Madrid said the heated race was far from over because thousands of ballots still need to be counted.
    Wilson, who is seeking a fifth term, spoke to a cheering crowd at her campaign headquarters Thursday night in Albuquerque after Bernalillo County election workers announced unofficial totals from nearly 4,000 absentee ballots that were hand counted.
    "The vote total from Bernalillo County this evening show a margin of more than 1,600 votes. Nearly all the ballots are counted and that margin is decisive,'' Wilson said.
    The Associated Press had yet to confirm the numbers.
    Matt Farrauto, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said the ballot counting process is a long one.
    "At best you can argue that Heather Wilson made it from first to second base, but she's still yet to make it home,'' he said. "With so many outstanding provisional ballots, many of which the Republicans misled people into, this is still a very close and undetermined contest.''
    Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for Madrid, added that it doesn't matter what candidate declares victory because every vote needs to be counted.
    Election workers in the 1st District tallied absentee ballots and began examining provisionals Thursday in the razor-thin House race. Still, more than 2,698 provisional and 1,058 in-lieu of ballots needed to be counted in Bernalillo County — the largest county in the state.
    By law, the provisional votes can't be counted until the county canvasses its results.
    Wilson, during her victory speech, thanked her family, her staff and volunteers who she said "lifted me up and spurred [corrected from inspired at 11:21 p.m] me on.''
    Wilson also reached out to Madrid supporters and told them her door will always be open. She also promised to work to find common ground with those who "feel deeply disappointed by the results of this election.''
    Early, emotions boiled over during an evening news conference at the warehouse where votes are being counted. Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties traded allegations that suggested the other side was trying to tilt the count to their favor.
    GOP attorney Pat Rogers accused the Democrats of dirty tricks because their party's executive director was a vote-counter, while a spokesman for Wilson's campaign complained about the slow pace of the work since Tuesday's election.
    "If there is honest and open accounting, Heather Wilson is going to be re-elected,'' Rogers predicted, basing his assertion on Wilson's continuing lead. "If there is not an honest and open count, we have concerns.''
    New Mexico Democratic Party chairman John Wertheim angrily countered that it was too early to declare victory and said a recount is likely. Democrats also alleged a Wilson congressional staffer had registered to vote as a Democrat and was taking part in the count — a claim Rogers denied.
    "Democrats want every legitimate vote counted,'' Wertheim said. "Anything to the contrary is absolutely not fair.''
    Bernalillo County election administrator Jaime Diaz said workers planned to begin counting provisionals Friday but cautioned that the work could stretch into Saturday. About 3,700 provisional ballots were cast by people who, for example, could not provide identification or whose name did not appear on the roster at the polling place.
    Republicans believe the trend appears to support Wilson's re-election. Of the estimated 7,300 outstanding Bernalillo County ballots as of early Thursday, Madrid would have needed to win 59 percent to make up her current deficit — about three of every five votes.
    But that scenario assumes all the provisional ballots would be valid, which isn't likely to happen. With a smaller pool after some provisionals are disqualified, they said Madrid's needed percentage for victory would expand beyond 60 percent.
    The Democratic and Republican parties also went to court to quibble over how the provisional ballots should be examined.
    Their arguments proved moot when state District Judge James Hall in Santa Fe denied a request by Democrats and Madrid to block state regulations that govern whether provisional ballots are valid and should be counted.
    Initially, Democrats and Madrid contended there was a conflict between the regulations and a 2005 state law. They later backed away from that position after the secretary of state's office outlined its views on the procedures for dealing with provisional ballots.
    The case also was shifted to federal court. But after a brief hearing, U.S. District Judge Bruce Black concluded there was no legal dispute that required him to act.
    Chris Coppin, a lawyer representing the secretary of state's office, said a 2004 attorney general's legal opinion about provisional ballots was sent Thursday to county clerks.

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