June 2, 2020

Primary preview: Races to watch on Election Day

A strange and unique election primary comes to an end today.

Elections officials will begin counting ballots after 7:00 p.m., though they have been preparing to process a record-breaking flood of absentee ballots, the most returned ballots of any primary by a significant margin and likely more than any general election as well.*

Results will likely not be available in close races on Tuesday night because of the process needed to count absentee ballots.

Today’s elections will feature several key races, including federal and legislative.


U.S. Senate

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is among the most highly watched in the state.

The party’s primary includes three candidates: Former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti, anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez and former Trump administration official Gavin Clarkson.

Much of the race has revolved around another man on the Republican ballot for the primary, though with no competition, President Donald Trump.

Martinez, Clarkson and outside groups have highlighted statements Ronchetti made critical of Trump, where he told University of New Mexico students at a 2019 event he was a “conservative Christian who used to be a Republican until the orange one.”

Martinez and Clarkson pounced on the statements to say Ronchetti would not be an ally of Trump in the U.S. Senate.

Still, Ronchetti has led in fundraising since entering the race and had the most cash-on-hand left of any candidate in the final days leading up to the election.

The winner will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Libertarian retired applied mathematician Bob Walsh in the general election. Each is unopposed.

2nd Congressional District

The race with potentially more on the line for Republicans than even the Senate races is the 2nd Congressional District race in southern New Mexico. The district is the most conservative in the state and has only been held by two Democrats since the state earned a third congressional district in the 1980s—including currently.

Yvette Herrell, a former state representative, lost a very narrow race in the 2018 general election and is once again seeking the seat. She faces oil and gas company lobbyist Claire Chase and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys.

Much of the attention has been on Herrell and Chase, as the two and outside groups have flooded the airwaves and voters’ mailboxes with campaign material. 

Like in the Senate race, much of the race revolved around who would be more willing to support Trump while in Congress.

In addition to the constellation of Republican-aligned and conservative groups weighing in, two groups typically aligned with Democrats, Patriot Majority and Women Vote, have spent money to support Herrell—showing that these groups feel Herrell would be easier to defeat in the general election. 

The winner of the primary will face incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small in the general election.

3rd Congressional District

On the other end of the political spectrum is the state’s 3rd Congressional District in northern New Mexico. A massive and crowded Democrat primary, seven candidates on the ballot are hoping to replace Luján. The district has a long Democratic history, with only a brief interlude by Republican Bill Redmond, who won a special election in 1997 before losing handily to Udall in 1998. 

The seven Democratic candidates are Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez, Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya, 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, State Rep. Joseph Sanchez, former CIA Officer Valerie Plame, former Deputy Secretary of State John Blair and environmental attorney Kyle Tisdel.

Plame has dominated fundraising in the race, according to FEC records, though a poll conducted by Clarity Campaign for by EMILY’S List showed Leger Fernandez with a lead in May; EMILY’S List endorsed Leger Fernandez.

Leger Fernandez has faced criticism from other candidates from support from groups that do not disclose donors, known as “dark money” groups. One, the Alliance To Combat Extremis Fund, used Nazi imagery when referring to tweets in 2017 when Plame shared an anti-Semitic article. 

Plame has apologized for the tweets, and Leger Fernandez denounced the ad and denounced dark money groups.

The winner will face one of three Republicans seeking the seat: former Santa Fe County commissioner Harry Montoya, Navajo Nation member Karen Bedonie and engineer Alexis Johnson. Angela Gale Morales of Rio Rancho also qualified as a write-in candidate for the Republican nomination.

1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District has moved sharply towards Democrats over the last decade. Democrat Martin Heinrich, now a U.S. Senator, was the first Democrat to win the seat in 2008, then narrowly won reelection in 2010. Since then, Democrats have not received less than 58 percent of the vote in the general election.

Deb Haaland, the incumbent Democrat, is seeking her second term.

She will face the winner of the Republican primary between former chief of staff for the state Attorney General Michelle Garcia Holmes, businessman Brett Kokinadis and attorney Jared Vander Dussen.

Legislative races

Every seat in the state legislature, in both the House and Senate, are up for election this year. State senators face election every four years.

Senate races

This year, a number of conservative and moderate Democrats are facing challenges from the left. 

Incumbent Democrats George Muñoz of Gallup, Richard Martinez of Española, Pete Campos of Las Vegas, Gabe Ramos of Silver City, Clemente Sanchez of Grants, John Arthur Smith of Deming and Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces each voted against a bill to repeal the state’s law that outlaws abortion, but is not enorceable because of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
Noreen Kelly is challenging Muñoz, Leo Jaramillo is challenging Martinez, Connie Trujillo is challenging Campos, Siah Correa Hemphill is challenging Ramos, Pamela Cordova is challenging Sanchez, Neomi Martinez-Parra is facing Smith and Carrie Hamblen is facing Papen, though a candidate who withdrew from that race will remain on the ballot.

Other incumbent Democrats facing challengers are Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi, Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces.

In Senate District 9, three candidates seek to replace Democrat John Sapien and in Senate District 20, four candidates look to replace Republican Bill Payne, who did not seek reelection.

Republicans have fewer contested primaries.

State Rep. David Gallegos is challenging incumbent Gregg Fulfer in southeastern New Mexico. Fulfer was appointed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez to replace Carroll Leavell in 2018.

State Rep. Gregg Schmedes also opted against running again for this state House seat, to challenge James White in the Albuquerque district. White was appointed by Martinez in 2016, and won an election that same year.

Like in the Democratic primary, three Republicans are seeking the nomination for District 9 to replace Sapien. Two Republicans are running to replace Payne, while four other districts with Democratic incumbents have contested Republican primaries.

House races

Seven incumbent Democrats in the House face opponents in the primary: Patricia Roybal Caballero, Miguel Garcia, Deborah Armstong, Marian Matthews, Raymundo Lara, Matthew McQueen and Derrick Lente. These include two remates: Lara will face Bealquin Gomez, who he defeated in 2018, and Lente will face James Roger Madalenda, who he defeated in 2016.

Multiple Democrats are also running for the open seats in House District 20, held by Abbas Akhil, House District 40, represented by Joseph Sanchez, House District 42, held by Dan Barrone, House District 45, held by Jim Trujillo and House District 70, held by Tomas Salazar. All have opted against running for reelection.

No House Republicans face opponents.

In House District 61, two Republicans are seeking to replace Gallegos after he left the seat to run for Senate.

* The Secretary of State’s totals for 2002 had more returned absentee ballots than in 2020, as of the numbers from June 1; however, the numbers in 2002 may have included early vote totals in the absentee vote total.