Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez captured a convincing victory in her 3rd Congressional District race against Republican opponent Alexis Martinez Johnson, with 57 percent of votes, according to early results.
Leger Fernandez was winning Rio Arriba and Taos counties by wide margins, and she had 80 percent of votes counted in Santa Fe County late Tuesday.
The Associated Press called the race for Leger Fernandez just after 9 p.m., and shortly before 9:30 p.m., her campaign proclaimed victory.
“This election is about transformation, about building a different economy — one that doesn’t favor the rich over the working class, about science guiding our response to the pandemic, about providing health care for all people, not just those who can afford it, and about creating opportunities and living up to our promise,” Leger Fernandez said in a statement.
She will represent a sprawling district in Northern New Mexico that stretches from the largely Democratic centers of Santa Fe and Española to San Juan, Los Alamos, Taos, Colfax, Harding, Union, Mora, San Miguel, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties. The district also includes most of McKinley and Sandoval counties and parts of Bernalillo County.
Leger Fernandez will take her seat in Congress — replacing U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who narrowly won a Senate race — as the state and nation face some of the toughest challenges in history, from a surging novel coronavirus pandemic to high rates of addiction and poverty and worsening effects of climate change, including severe drought and wildfires.
Daily cases of COVID-19 have increased in the state in recent weeks to a record number Tuesday, threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care capacity.
Leger Fernandez was born and raised in Las Vegas, N.M. She is the daughter of a school superintendent and a teacher. Her father, Ray Leger, served in the state Legislature.
She has spent most of her career working as an attorney in Santa Fe representing Native American tribes, and she has touted her legal work helping pueblos in New Mexico find funding for water treatment projects and pipelines, and for affordable housing.
She has said continuing to fund those efforts will remain a priority for her in Congress.
Leger Fernandez is a progressive candidate who has advocated for a “New Mexico Green New Deal” to stimulate the economy while investing in renewable energy. She also has voiced support for Medicare for all.
“We are trying very hard to bend the arc of history toward justice,” Leger Fernandez said in a phone interview Tuesday.
She earned a wide array of endorsements from environmental groups, pueblos and tribes, unions and political action committees.
In contrast, Johnson ran on a platform of fighting gun control measures, opposing abortion and making it easier for oil and gas companies to do business in New Mexico.
Johnson did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday night.
Republicans have held the state’s 3rd Congressional District seat only once for an abbreviated term under unique political circumstances. Since then, the district has become even more reliably Democratic.
Leger Fernandez’s biggest battle was the Democratic primary, when she defeated six rivals in a contest that became somewhat contentious in its final weeks, when some candidates criticized her for an influx of ad spending in her favor from independent groups that do not disclose their donors.
The Democratic candidate has come out against so-called dark money and was endorsed by End Citizens United, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic political action committee dedicated to a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling, Citizens United v. FEC.
The landmark case held that the government cannot restrict election-related political spending from corporations and other groups.
Getting another COVID-19 relief bill passed will be an immediate priority for Leger Fernandez in Congress, she said Tuesday night, adding she plans to fight for economic development funding for New Mexico in that legislation.
Leger Fernandez said the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical importance of the disparity in infrastructure between places like Santa Fe and the Navajo Nation in Western New Mexico.
“We know that because of the COVID crisis and the failure of this president and the Senate Republicans to address it, that we will need to take up a big recovery bill in 2021,” Leger Fernandez said, adding she hopes the measure will “pay for an expanded vision of infrastructure that includes the renewable energy projects that we need.”
She also hopes it will include a boost for education, broadband access, clean water, road repairs and affordable housing, she said.
“One of my rallying cries has been: We need to do all that is necessary to provide the foundation upon which communities and businesses can thrive,” she said.