By RUSSELL CONTRERAS
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) ~ New Mexico is set to have a U.S. House delegation made up of all people of color after a historic win Tuesday by a Native American candidate, a victory by a five-term Hispanic incumbent and a too-close-to-call contest between two other minority candidates.
It’s believed to be a first for any state with at least three House seats.
Democrat Debra Haaland defeated Republican Janice E. Arnold-Jones in the race for one of New Mexico’s open U.S. House seats, becoming one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. She also beat Libertarian Lloyd J. Princeton in the district that includes Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city.
The seat was open because incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham opted to run for New Mexico governor. She won, meaning the reins of state government will pass from one Latina to another as termed-out Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office.
Meanwhile, a hotly contested U.S. House race in southern New Mexico _ between Republican Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small _ remained too close to call late Tuesday. Torres Small is a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants.
That seat was open because the incumbent Republican, Rep. Steve Pearce, ran against Lujan Grisham.
Regardless of who wins, the state’s House delegation will be all people of color.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who is Hispanic, won a sixth term representing northern New Mexico’s 3rd District. He defeated Republican Jerald Steve McFall and Libertarian Chris Manning.
Lujan campaigned on efforts to advance immigration reform, expand Medicaid and address climate change. He has spearheaded efforts since 2014 to cut short Republican control of Congress as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Lujan has long pushed for congressional candidates from diverse backgrounds, like Haaland and Democrat Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation who won a U.S. House seat in Kansas.
Haaland is an enrolled Laguna Pueblo member. She was one of a three Native American women seeking to become among the first elected to Congress on Tuesday.
“New Mexico made history tonight,” Haaland said. “I want to thank every single person who poured their heart and soul into this campaign. Congress has never heard a voice like mine, but when the 116th session of Congress begins, they will hear my voice.”
According to the U.S. Census, around 49 percent of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic and about 11 percent is Native American. However, the voting participation of both populations historically has lagged behind whites.
Haaland vastly outraised her opponents, and her win comes as President Donald Trump has repeatedly called U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” over her claims the senator from Massachusetts has Native American ancestry.
Haaland’s candidacy gained national attention during the Democratic primary and excited Native Americans across the country. The Winslow, Arizona-born activist defeated a crowded field of mainly Hispanic candidates in a state with the largest percentage of Latino residents.
Her primary victory came almost 50 years to the day after Robert F. Kennedy won South Dakota’s Democratic presidential primary thanks to the Native American vote on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Arnold-Jones sparked controversy after questioning Haaland’s Native American heritage during a Fox News interview. The Republican said Haaland was a “military brat” who didn’t grow up on an American Indian reservation. Democrats denounced the comments as bigoted and ill-informed.
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