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WED: Democrats Gain Steam In Legislature, COVID-19 Cases Top 50,000; + More

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New Mexico Legislature

New Mexico Democrats Gain Steam For Progressive Priorities -  By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

New Mexico Democrats gained steam in Tuesday's election, giving momentum in the state legislature for progressive priorities on marijuana, education, and abortion.

But Republicans reclaimed the conservative-leaning congressional district in southern New Mexico and fended off some progressive Democrats who had unseated centrists in state legislative primaries.

Voter participation across the state shattered a prior record, with more than 915,000 ballots cast. County election boards on Wednesday resumed their work so they could count several thousand absentee and provisional ballots.

In New Mexico's conservative 2nd District, GOP congressional challenger Yvette Herrell defeated U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Three Senate races and five House races are still too close to call.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the mixed results with voter participation that shattered records "show that New Mexico is not blue. It is clearly a purple state.”

Democrats successfully defended legislative majorities in the state House and Senate, and women expanded their political representation in both chambers of the Legislature, as New Mexico elected an all-female delegation to the U.S. House.

A slate of progressive Democratic candidates for state Senate office met with mixed results. Republican Crystal Diamond defeated Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra for a seat held for decades by Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith. Martinez-Parra ousted Smith in the Democratic primary.

Republicans had hoped to reduce their deficit in the Senate, which has 42 seats. Overall, they lost at least one seat.

Several progressive Democrats won first terms, including Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces — whose primary nomination in June knocked out Democratic Senate President Mary Kay Papen, an opponent of abortion and recreational marijuana.

University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said that Democratic legislators allied with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are better positioned to push through initiatives to increase spending on early childhood education, and possibly overturn the state's 1969 abortion ban and legalize sales and taxation of recreational marijuana.

In other results, two state Supreme Court justices previously appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won election to eight-year terms.

Incumbent Justice Shannon Bacon, a former state district judge from Albuquerque, defeated Republican challenger Ned Fuller. Incumbent Justice David Thomson defeated Republican attorney Kerry Morris of Albuquerque.

A ballot measure was approved that will overhaul the Public Regulation Commission that oversees electric utilities, pipeline safety and telecommunications.

The panel will be made up of three members appointed by the governor instead of five elected commissioners.

New Mexico Cases Surge Past 50,000 As Governor Seeks Tourism Stimulus Associated Press, KUNM

Confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 50,250 in New Mexico on Wednesday with the reporting of an additional 1,022 cases.

State health officials also reported another 14 confirmed deaths, a new daily record, bringing that statewide tally to nearly 1,060 since the pandemic began.

The number of patients being hospitalized also remains high at 393, with medical officials reporting capacity at about 80%.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed a $25 million stimulus package for the state's tourism industry, which has been hammered by the pandemic.

The proposal comes after a recent employment report said the state's leisure and hospitality industry has lost 24,500 jobs this year, about a 24.5% decrease from a year ago.

The governor's office says the pandemic has cost the industry $4.3 billion this year. The U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics estimates that without substantial funding, it may take up to seven years for the industry to return to pre-pandemic spending levels.

She said she will ask lawmakers to consider the package during the legislative session that opens in January.

"New Mexico has a strategic advantage coming out of COVID-19 due to its strong outdoor recreation assets and abundance of open spaces," state Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer said. "However, this advantage cannot be realized if New Mexico is not competitive with other states actively investing stimulus funds for tourism promotion."

Key GOP Win Wrinkles Democratic Wave In New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham boasted that voters were turning out in droves Tuesday and electing Democrats up and down the ticket.

But that didn't happen in a key congressional district where oil and gas development provides thousands of jobs and underpins New Mexico's state budget.

Amid the blue wave, Republican Yvette Herrell marked a decisive victory to unseat Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small in a campaign centered on jobs, personal liberties and reopening businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from Herrell's win, political observers suggest that margins in presidential and Senate races would have been larger if New Mexico voters had aligned more with Democrats.

Voter participation in the Democrat-leaning state broke records, but new Republican registrations in the 2nd District outpaced Democrats. Overall, Joe Biden won just over half of the vote in New Mexico.

Born and raised in New Mexico, Herrell is part of the state's first all-female U.S. House delegation.

In the other two races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland was reelected in the 1st District and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won an open seat in the 3rd District to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who won his U.S. Senate race.

Biden Wins New Mexico Amid Republican Comeback Near Border - By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico is sending a Latino politician to the U.S. Senate for the first time since the 1970s with the election of Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

But Republicans reclaimed the conservative-leaning congressional district in southern New Mexico. Voter participation across the state shattered a prior record with more than 915,000 ballots cast.

Democrat Joe Biden won the state's presidential vote by a wide margin to claim five Electoral College delegates. County election boards on Wednesday were wrapping up final counts of a few thousand outstanding absentee and provisional ballots.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson. Said the mixed results with voter participation that shattered records "show that New Mexico is not blue. It is clearly a purple state.”


New Mexico Makes History With All-Female US House Team - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico is sending an all-female U.S. House delegation to Congress, including a Republican who defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in what was one of the most watched races in the nation. 

The contest between former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell and the first-term congresswoman was a 2018 rematch that was decided by turnout. 

Voter participation in the Democrat-leaning state broke records, as new Republican registrations in the 2nd District outpaced Democrats. 

In the other two races, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won the 3rd District to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland was reelected in the 1st District.

New Mexico Elects Democrat Luján To US Senate, Backs Biden - By Morgan Lee And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

New Mexico promoted U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján to the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s election in a victory for Democrats as Joe Biden won the state's Electoral College delegates. 

Also on Tuesday, Republican Yvette Herrell wrestled the state's southern congressional district away from first-term Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small. 

Luján defeated Republican former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and Libertarian scientist Bob Walsh in a victory that marks a resurgence of Latino political leadership in a state with the largest share of Hispanic residents. 

Two Democratic state Supreme Court justices, David Thomson and Shannon Bacon, kept their seats in election victories.


GOP's Yvette Herrell Defeats New Mexico Congresswoman - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Republican Yvette Herrell on Tuesday won a contested race for a U.S. House seat in New Mexico, beating incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in what was New Mexico's most watched congressional contest.

The race between Herrell and Torres Small was a rematch of 2018. This time, Herrell made an effort to broaden her campaign beyond the region's more conservative strongholds. In recent weeks, President Donald Trump and other big-name Republicans campaigned virtually for Herrell.

While Torres Small maintained a fundraising edge throughout the race, Herrell received a surge in donations during the third quarter. She raised more than $1 million — one of the biggest fundraising quarters for a Republican congressional candidate in state history. 

Herrell embraced Trump's border wall strategy and promoted her pro-petroleum philosophy in her bid to unseat Torres Small. She also tried to draw parallels between her opponent and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with ads focused on Torres Small's voting record and ties to gun control activists flooding the airwaves during the campaign's final days.

Torres Small attempted to portray herself as a moderate who opposed her party's line on certain issues, like limiting oil and gas development.

Torres Small recently tried to distance herself from comments made by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — who has waffled on oil and gas, saying early on that he opposed fracking only to be corrected by his campaign and then later suggested he would ban new drilling permits on federal land.

The issue of energy development is important in New Mexico, which is home to part of one of the world's richest oil and natural gas basins. Revenue from the industry underpins the state budget and supports tens of thousands of jobs.

New Mexico Amendments And Bonds On Track To Pass - By Nash Jones, KUNM 

Amid record voter turnout in New Mexico’s 2020 election, two state constitutional amendments are slated to pass, as are the statewide bonds. 

New Mexico saw over 915,000 ballots cast in this year’s general election, though the vast majority were cast before Election Day by both in-person and by absentee voting. The state surpassed its 2008 turnout record by about 82,000 votes. 

Unofficial results have both constitutional amendments heading for passage. Constitutional Amendment 1, which would see the Public Regulation Commission turn from an elected body of five to a panel of 3 appointed by the governor had 55% approval as of early Wednesday morning. 

Constitutional Amendment 2, which would permit the terms for non-statewide offices to be adjusted, had 64% approval Wednesday, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office.

All three statewide bonds received overwhelming support according to unofficial election results, with each receiving voter support of 65% or more. The three measures issue bond funds to improve senior facilities, libraries and schools. 

Albuquerque Poised To Flip Three Legislative Seats Blue, Electing First Black State Senator - Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Three state Senate seats in Albuquerque districts are likely to flip parties as Democrats lead in the unofficial election results.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Democrats are ahead in races for seats currently held by Republican senators in Albuquerque’s North Valley, Foothills, and Westside. 

As of early Wednesday, Democratic challenger and attorney Katy Duhigg leads Republican incumbent Candace Gould 52% to 48% in the North Valley’s Senate District 10.

Democrat Martin Hickey is carrying 54% of the vote this morning over Republican John Morton in the open state Senate race in District 20, which falls along Albuquerque’s foothills. The seat was previously held by Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne. 

Democrat and Retired Air Force officer Harold Pope Jr. leads three-time incumbent Sen. Sander Rue by four percentage points in the westside’s 23rd senate district. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Pope, a first-time candidate, would be New Mexico’s first Black state senator. 

New Mexico Sets Record For Daily COVID-19 Cases Amid Surge Associated Press

New Mexico on Tuesday set a new record for the number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day and hospitalizations marked a new high for the 12th day in a row.

State health officials reported an additional 1,141 cases Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 49,240 since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The death toll stemming from the pandemic also has increased to 1,045 and hospitalizations reached a record 401 on Tuesday.

New Mexico has been dealing with a surge for weeks now despite having some of the toughest public health restrictions in place, including mandates that call for face coverings and limited interaction with others.

The latest high in the daily case count came as people lined up at the polls around New Mexico to cast their ballots. The state's top election administrators posted messages on social media saying that it was safe to vote and that all polls were following COVID-safe practices aimed at preventing spread of the virus.