Harold Pope Jr. had a remarkable election night, ending a streak that began in 1912.
Pope defeated a three-term incumbent to become New Mexico’s first Black state senator.
A Democrat, Pope bested Republican Sen. Sander Rue in Northwest Albuquerque’s District 23. The unofficial margin was about 5 percentage points.
“I feel great,” Pope said just before midnight when the final numbers posted. “There was the anxiousness. You do the work and hope.”
It was his first try for public office.
Pope, who served for 21 years in the Air Force, ran a disciplined campaign. He talked about large themes, such as reducing poverty by investing in the state’s new department for early childhood education.
He didn’t discuss race often, though it was impossible for him to ignore it altogether.
Other politicians, notably members of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s staff, mentioned New Mexico’s streak of never having a Black senator.
Pope said race didn’t motivate him to run. Still, he couldn’t ignore the possibility of a breakthrough.
“It’s history,” he said at one point during a long campaign made difficult by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The disease prevented candidates from interacting personally with voters.
The state Senate is a diverse body in some respects, having Native American and Hispanic members. But it’s also been top-heavy with men and had been absent any Black members.
One reason is New Mexico has a Black population of only about 2.5 percent. Still, New Mexico has had five Black state representatives — three Democrats and two Republicans.
The first Black representative, Lenton Malry, was elected in 1968. Across the years, a handful of other Black candidates won election to the 70-member House.
With Pope besting Rue, Democrats would have an opportunity to maintain their decisive advantage in the Senate. The chamber had 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans before the election.
But a Republican was leading by a wide margin in a high-profile race in Southern New Mexico, a contest where Democrats helped the rival party’s cause.
Throwing stones is an art form in politics. Fire at the wrong target and you shatter your own chance to win.
Senate Democrats attacked Republican candidate Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte on grounds that she had once been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. But Diamond was not convicted, as prosecutors declined to bring a case against her.
This didn’t stop the Senate Democrats from running a misleading ad aimed at Diamond, the GOP nominee in District 35. Worse for the Democrats, their mailer revealed hypocrisy.
One of their own, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, was convicted last year of aggravated drunken driving and reckless driving. Even so, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, contributed $1,000 to Martinez’s reelection campaign in the June primary.
Other Senate Democrats said Martinez could learn from his mistake — a soft word considering he injured two innocent people while driving drunk.
There was more.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who once was convicted of drunken driving, was the point person for the ad attacking Diamond. It contained her address and phone number as the source of the ad.
The Democrats’ mailer said it was a sobering thought to think Diamond might land in the Senate. Stewart sits in the Senate as majority whip.
All of the dirty play didn’t help Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, the opponent of Diamond.
Martinez-Parra was a giant killer in the Democratic primary, defeating 32-year Sen. John Arthur Smith.
But fellow Democrats might have created a well of support for Diamond with their reckless ad.
Diamond on Tuesday night had opened a lead of 16 percentage points on Martinez-Parra while winning three of the four counties in the district.
Smith a week ago predicted Diamond would be his successor.
Martinez-Parra, a retired special-education teacher, felt the highs of politics with her win over Smith.
But instead of promoting her ideas and her strengths as a servant in her community, her allies went on the attack. It looks like a fatal mistake.