Poll: Biden, Luján lead in New Mexico after primaries

A new poll, commissioned by NM Political Report and conducted by Public Policy Polling, found that Democrats lead in the races for U.S. Senate and president in the state and that voters in the state approve of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic more than they do of President Donald Trump’s. Trump’s campaign has said they will target New Mexico as a potential pickup in his reelection effort, but polling across the country in recent weeks has shown presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a lead over the incumbent in key swing states. The poll found that Biden leads Trump 53 percent to 39 percent in New Mexico, with 8 percent unsure. Biden leads among Democrats, 80 percent to 14 percent, while Trump leads among Republicans, 85 percent to 12 percent. But Biden has a large lead among independents, 52 percent to Trump’s 30 percent, with 18 percent not sure. 

Biden has a large lead among Hispanic or Latino voters, 68 percent to 22 percent, while Trump leads among white voters, 53 percent to 41 percent.

Chief Justice Nakamura to retire in August

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura will retire in August, according to an announcement from the Administrative Office of the Courts. 

Nakamura became the first Republican woman elected to the high court in 2016 and became the court’s chief justice in 2017. She is currently the sole Republican on the bench. “In my years on the bench, I’ve always strived to not only make the best legal decisions possible but to improve people’s lives and advance the administration of justice,” Nakamura said in a statement. 

The announcement did not say why she was retiring, but said Nakamura’s last day as Chief Justice will be August 1. Nakamura was first appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Susana Martinez in 2015. In an email to members of the State Bar of New Mexico, the Administrative Office of the Courts also announced that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission will meet next month to discuss nominations for Nakamura’s replacement.

Santa Fe, Taos counties need more time to count votes amid flood of absentee ballots

Most of the state completed their tallies of ballots, including absentee ballots, but election officials in Taos County and Santa Fe County received permission from district courts to extend the time needed to finish tallying absentee ballots. The two counties, like many others, received an unprecedented number of absentee ballots for a primary election, and numbers that even dwarfed high-turnout general elections in the past. It isn’t clear how many votes were cast by absentee ballots, but as of 5 p.m. on Election Day, county clerks had received more than 246,000 absentee ballots. In the 2016 primary, county clerks statewide received 23,066. Santa Fe County on its own received more than the statewide total in the 2016 primary.

Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Tuesday night proved to be a night of historic upsets against state Senators who have long held onto their seats. Much of the action was on the Democratic side, though it appears two Republican incumbents also lost their primaries. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, after 32 years in the state Senate and the most powerful legislator as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is extremely likely to lose to grassroots challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra. Smith represents SD 35. He more than doubled Martinez-Parra in donations.

Leger Fernandez wins CD3 Democratic primary

Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won the seven-way Democratic primary on Tuesday. 

As of 2 a.m., Leger Fernandez had 41.89 percent of the vote, while her closest competitor, former CIA officer Valerie Plame, had 22.95 percent of the vote. 

The Associated Press projected Leger Fernandez as the winner shortly before 11 p.m.

“This is a win for communities, families and workers all across our district, and I am grateful for the trust that voters have placed in our campaign’s vision for Northern New Mexico. Even in a time when we must continue to stay physically distant and so much tries to divide us, this campaign has always been about interconnectedness and coming together,” Leger Fernandez said in a statement. Related: Herrell wins GOP primary, will face Torres Small again for CD2 seat in general election

Leger Fernandez is an attorney and activist from Santa Fe who emphasized her roots in the district during her campaign. Fernandez received the support of a number of national organizations, including EMILY’s List and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She was often overshadowed on a national scale by Plame, whose ads showcasing her driving skills helped get her national attention and fundraising support.

Herrell wins GOP primary, will face Torres Small again for CD2 seat in general election

A three-way race in the Republican primary for the state’s 2nd Congressional District ended with former state representative Yvette Herrell winning the Republican nod. 

The Associated Press called the race for Herrell at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. Herrell had garnered 45.58 percent of the vote at the time.  

The primary campaign was dominated by attacks between Herrell and oil and gas lobbyist Claire Chase. Chase came under fire in the early days of the campaign for social media posts made in 2015 and 2016 that were critical of President Donald Trump. Chase has since praised Trump for his “fearless leadership.” 

Related: Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Chase took more vots in Chaves and Eddy counties, but fell behind Herrell in Doña Ana County and Lea County. Chase garnered 31.62 percent of the vote as of 2 a.m. Wednesday to Herrell’s 44.77 percent.

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. Federal

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.

Election officials prepare to count flood of absentee ballots

State officials have urged New Mexicans to vote via absentee ballots if at all possible, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, it appears, voters have heard this and are responding. New Mexicans are voting by absentee ballot at an unprecedented rate for this June’s primaries. 

As of Tuesday morning, 98,485 voters in the primary had cast ballots through absentees. In 2008, the year that previously had the highest amount of absentee ballots for a primary had just 30,854 absentee ballots cast. That number will continue to grow—as of Tuesday morning, 155,673 voters requested absentee ballots.

Campaigns forced to adapt during COVID-19 pandemic

Candidates are getting creative in how they connect with voters amid a COVID-19 pandemic. With about a week left before the primary election, some candidates are leaning on phone calls, text messages and social media more than usual in lieu of in-person campaign rallies or forums, even as tens of thousands of voters have already cast ballots through absentee or early in-person voting. 

Brett Phelps, a Democrat who is running for district attorney in the state’s 4th judicial district said a lack of face-to-face interaction with voters is one of the biggest challenges. Phelps, a criminal defense attorney, normally could have a more personable conversation with voters to make his pitch about why his experience on the defense side is better than his opponent who has worked for years in the DA’s office. He said, instead, he has been focusing on putting up campaign signs and making phone calls. 

“One of the hardest things, when we do have personal interactions, is not shaking hands,” Phelps said. “Shaking hands and kissing babies, that’s what they told me it was all about when I got into this.” 

Even when asking supporters to display one of his yard signs, Phelps said, he has to make a phone call first instead of knocking on doors. 

But, it is those person-to-person conversations that political hopefuls often count on that makes things the most difficult. 

“Not being able to meet with people face-to-face and answer their questions personally has definitely been a struggle,” Phelps said. 

Even walking door to door in more urban areas can present problems during a pandemic, said state House Republican candidate Jill Michel.