Rep. Ben Ray Luján was elected as New Mexico’s next U.S. senator and Teresa Leger Fernandez was elected to represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District in Tuesday night’s election, which shattered the state’s previous voter turnout record.
Luján, a longtime representative of CD-3 who campaigned on the Affordable Care Act and opposition to President Donald Trump, defeated political newcomer Mark Ronchetti, who championed support for law enforcement and grassroots conservatism in an election to succeed the retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.
Meanwhile, Luján’s Senate campaign made room for two first-time candidates to face off for his seat in the House of Representatives; Leger Fernandez overcame Alexis Martinez Johnson in a race that pitted an advocate of progressive renewable energy and expanded health care against an oil and gas proponent who campaigned on anti-abortion and pro-Second Amendment issues.
The state set a voter turnout record. More than 900,000 votes were cast, blowing past the previous record of just more than 833,000 votes set in 2008. High turnout was likely influenced by widespread use of mail-in ballots as well as the contentious presidential race.
Tuesday’s election results marked the end of a unique campaign season characterized by socially distanced events and widespread use of digital technology in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the U.S. Senate and 3rd Congressional races were open, meaning the incumbents had chosen not to run for re-election. Udall is retiring at the end of his term, and Luján, who currently represents CD-3, chose instead to run for the Senate.
Luján heads to SenateLuján, a Democrat from Nambé, defeated Albuquerque Republican Mark Ronchetti and Libertarian candidate Bob Walsh to succeed Udall as senator. Udall has held the seat since 2009.
With nearly all votes reported, Luján earned slightly more than 51% of votes cast, giving him the edge over Ronchetti, who earned 46%, and Walsh, who took slightly less than 3%.
San Juan County, however, favored Ronchetti. The Republican earned just less than 64% of the votes in the northwestern county, while Luján took about a third of the vote total. Walsh had just more than 3%.
Luján celebrated his victory late Tuesday after news outlets called the race. He broadcast a speech online via Facebook from his family home in Nambé.
“It’s with a grateful heart that I am here with your support,” he said, “and I proudly stand here as your next United States senator from New Mexico.”
Luján is filling a Udall-vacated seat for the second time. Luján was elected as a Congressional representative after Udall left CD-3 to run for the Senate. When Luján is sworn into his new role, he will be the second CD-3 representative in a row to proceed to the Senate.
While Walsh, the Libertarian, saw moderate support throughout the Senate race, the majority of election coverage focused on Ronchetti and Luján. Ronchetti, a meteorologist, cast himself as a political outsider who would remain separate from Washington’s influence.
Luján, on the other hand, pointed to his experience in New Mexico politics to characterize himself as a leader and longtime advocate for New Mexicans.
On the campaign trail, many of the candidates’ disagreements echoed the ones being debated in Washington, including differences over the Affordable Care Act and the recent appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite their differences, both candidates preached messages of unity after the race was called.
“We have to come together,” Luján said in his speech. “We understand that people have a difference of opinion, but we’re all New Mexicans and we have to celebrate that.”
Ronchetti echoed that sentiment in posts on social media thanking his supporters and saying that he would pray for New Mexico’s leaders.
“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support I received from New Mexicans throughout the campaign,” he wrote. “We have a wonderful state & all want what’s best for New Mexico.”
Leger Fernandez wins 3rd DistrictLeger Fernandez, a Democrat from Las Vegas, New Mexico, defeated Republican candidate Johnson of Portales, New Mexico, to represent the sizable 3rd Congressional District. She will be the first woman to represent the swathe of New Mexico, which stretches from Farmington and the Navajo Nation in the northwest across much of the state.
Leger Fernandez will fill the seat being vacated by senator-elect Luján. She earned 56% of the district’s votes. The election was officially called about two hours after polls closed.
“The people of New Mexico have chosen to protect what we love,” Leger Fernandez said on social media after her victory was announced. “With this victory, I promise you I will take the courageous action that this historic moment demands.”
Leger Fernandez and Johnson were both first-time candidates and are both natives of New Mexico. Leger Fernandez has worked as a lawyer who has pushed for reforms in issues ranging from housing to the environment. Johnson is an environmental engineer who has spent her career working in New Mexico’s growing and evolving energy sector.
The two disagreed on a few issues throughout the election. They offered starkly different opinions on a few issues, including reproductive rights and gun control.
They also found common ground. Both candidates said that if elected, passing pandemic aid through Congress would be a priority. Both have talked about prioritizing a response to climate change but disagreed about how to do it. Leger Fernandez has argued in favor of transitioning further toward renewable energy, while Johnson has supported fossil fuel carbon mitigation efforts, such as the proposed retrofit of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.
San Juan County favored Johnson in the election; she earned the support of about two-thirds of the northwestern county’s voters with slightly more than 33,000 votes.
Leger Fernandez will be a part of New Mexico’s first all-female Congressional delegation, joining 1st District Rep. Deb Haaland and 2nd District Rep. Yvette Herrell.
John Purcell is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.