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SEE UPDATE, Thursday 11:16 p.m.: Wilson Declares Victory; Democrats Vow Fight to End

No Victor Yet in 1st District

By Jeff Jones and Trip Jennings
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writers
    Don't hold your breath for results in the 1st Congressional District race.
    The winner of New Mexico's hottest political race of the season— the battle between Republican Rep. Heather Wilson and Democratic Attorney General Patricia Madrid— likely won't be known until Friday, or later. At least that was the forecast by election officials, who continued counting ballots in Albuquerque more than 24 hours after the polls closed Tuesday.
    With Wilson clinging to a 1,300-plus-vote lead Wednesday evening, election workers were hand-tallying 4,580 paper ballots that for one reason or another were rejected by the electronic tabulators that were supposed to count them.
    Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said once that work was done, workers today planned to begin counting about 3,800 "in-lieu-of" and provisional ballots.
    "Will they be done by Friday? I don't know," county spokeswoman Liz Hamm said late Wednesday afternoon.
    With the number of outstanding votes being whittled away, Madrid would need to gain ground to win the Albuquerque-based 1st District.
    The central New Mexico district is made up of 414 precincts in Bernalillo County, 10 in Valencia County, 13 in Sandoval County, 16 in Torrance County and three in Santa Fe County.

  • In Torrance County, Wilson took 3,266 votes to Madrid's 2,100;
  • In Santa Fe County's Edgewood area, Wilson beat Madrid by better than a 2-1 margin, getting 1,297 votes to Madrid's 604;
  • Wilson also took Valencia County, winning 3,352 votes to Madrid's 2,990;
  • Madrid was winning in Sandoval and Bernalillo counties, with incomplete returns.
        In Sandoval County, with one precinct not counted, Madrid was ahead 3,797 to 3,697. In Bernalillo County, with the hand-tallied, provisional and in-lieu-of ballots still to be counted, Madrid led 91,488 to 90,731.
        Wilson and Madrid hunkered down Wednesday to await an answer to the question sought by political watchers across the nation.
        Did Wilson— a moderate Republican in a Democratic-majority district— manage to secure a fifth full term despite a historic national tide that washed many of her GOP House colleagues out of office and gave Democrats control of the House?
        Wilson spokesman Enrique Carlos Knell said his camp was confident about the outcome, adding that Wilson spoke Wednesday with other lawmakers to make plans for the upcoming congressional session.
        Madrid spokeswoman Heather Brewer said the Democrat was in good spirits.
        While "all of us are strung out and exhausted," Brewer said of her camp, Madrid is "very upbeat, very happy. She feels good— she knows she ran a good race."
        Democrats this week went to court in an attempt to halt what some of them claimed was a Republican tactic to direct Democratic voters to incorrect polling places. Republicans denied the charges, and a judge declined to issue an order barring the state GOP from calling Democrats. But Brewer on Wednesday repeated the allegation and said the tally of provisional ballots— which are given to voters who show up at incorrect precincts— will break for Madrid.
        Republicans also have claimed several instances of potential voter fraud that they say might work against them.
        Questions raised by both parties about the integrity of the vote have indicated prospects of legal challenges to 1st District results, regardless of the winner. The race has been close throughout and apparently will be in the end.
        A final Journal Poll on the race conducted last week showed Madrid with a 49 percent to 45 percent advantage over Wilson— but that lead fell within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
        Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the final polling didn't indicate Madrid had suffered politically from her lackluster performance in a late-October televised debate.
        But he said that in such a tight race, any gaffe could prove to be costly.
        "It doesn't take a lot of shift to lose an election that is so razor-close," Sanderoff said.
        He can't recall another 1st District race in recent history as close as the Wilson vs. Madrid battle is shaping up to be.
        "It's a fabulously close race— and one that went down to the wire," he said.
        The hand tally of ballots ground through the early-morning hours Wednesday and throughout the day, long after the political parties' election-night bashes had broken up.
        As the process unfurled, Republicans held out hope that Wilson could keep a grasp on her slight lead.
        "I feel very confident," Republican attorney Pat Rogers said Wednesday of Wilson's shot at winning despite the GOP's national downfall.
        New Mexico Democrats weren't giving up on Madrid.
        "The game ain't over," said state Democratic Party chairman John Wertheim. "We're in the tenth inning and we don't know who's gonna win. This could go either way."
        Journal staff writer Leslie Linthicum contributed to this report.