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UPDATE 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9: Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M, declared victory just after 10 p.m. MST in the race for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. more

Wilson, Madrid Still Neck-And-Neck

By Tim Korte/
Associated Press
      After months of mudslinging and a night of uncertainty, the fiercely contested 1st Congressional District race between Heather Wilson and Patricia Madrid remained in the hands of balloting bean-counters Wednesday.
    But the outcome of one of the nastiest campaigns in New Mexico political history won't be known until Friday, when Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said she expects to have results from more than 2,698 provisional and 1,058 in-lieu of ballots.
    By law, the provisional votes can't be counted until the canvass.
    Only 1,395 votes separated the candidates in the Albuquerque-area district Wednesday evening. Wilson, the four-term Republican incumbent, had 50.34 percent. Madrid, the Democratic challenger and two-term New Mexico attorney general, had 49.66 percent.
    "There's a lot of wiggle room here and it's going to be a nail-biter,'' Madrid spokeswoman Heather Brewer said. "But we feel very strongly it's going to turn out the way we expected from the beginning.''
    Meanwhile, New Mexico Democrats filed a lawsuit late Wednesday asking a judge to clarify how provisional ballots will be evaluated.
    According to Democratic Party chairman John Wertheim, state law allows provisional ballots to be counted if they include a signature and the voter can be identified. A secretary of state's regulation, by contrast, allows ballots to be challenged under certain conditions, such as a missing initial.
    Wertheim called it "a friendly lawsuit'' and said Democrats sought to list New Mexico's county clerks, the state Republican Party and even Wilson's campaign as potential interested parties in the case.
    "It's been a problem in the past and we thought it would be in everyone's interest to get it resolved before the provisional ballots are counted, rather than afterward,'' Wertheim said.
    Republicans didn't immediately respond to telephone messages seeking to determine whether they'd support the effort.
    Hour by hour, ballot by ballot, poll workers logged votes while reporters and election observers from both parties monitored the events.
    Wilson and Madrid, meanwhile, holed up with their families to relax and wait it out, though a spokesman for Wilson said the congresswoman also participated in a conference call Wednesday with "moderate'' House colleagues.
    "They talked about ideas on how to move forward in the 110th Congress,'' spokesman Enrique Carlos Knell said, adding that Wilson expects to return to Washington.
    Wilson sought re-election in a hostile political environment, with a majority of voters dissatisfied with President Bush and the war in Iraq.
    According to an AP exit poll, six in 10 voters in the 1st Congressional District disapproved of the war and 55 percent disapproved of Bush's job performance. Voters statewide held similar views.
    "I've never seen a race where the headwind was so strong against us,'' Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said at Tuesday night's GOP election party.
    Results trickled in slowly Wednesday. Herrera said Bernalillo County election workers tabulated more than 4,500 absentee ballots, 642 early votes that were being hand-tallied because tabulating machines kicked them out and 261 Election Day votes that the machines rejected.
    Santa Fe County election coordinator Denise Lamb said her workers had to hand-tally 200 to 300 ballots, but only 35 were in the 1st District. Lamb said Wednesday evening 33 went to Wilson and 2 to Madrid.
    Other votes came from part of Rio Rancho in Sandoval County and from Valencia County.
    A victory for Madrid, New Mexico's attorney general, would make her the first Democrat to win and the first from either party to unseat an incumbent since the Albuquerque-area district was created in 1968.
    But Wilson, a Republican seeking a fifth term, has survived close contests before in her Democratic-leaning district.

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