“This is a Democratic district,” Eric Griego told the New Mexico Telegram in a wide-ranging interview in March. “It will elect a Democrat.”
Griego ended up losing the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary to Michelle Lujan Grisham, but his prediction proved true; Lujan Grisham easily won election over Republican Janice Arnold-Jones, nearly hitting the 60 percent mark.
Arnold-Jones’ election was the latest in a list of different types of Republicans put forward since Heather Wilson left the seat in 2008 for her first run for U.S. Senate. That year, Republicans put forward conservative Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. In 2010, Hispanic businessman Jon Barela was the party’s choice. In the Republican wave year, Barela was unable to knock off Heinrich.
Then Republicans tried to replicate the Heather Wilson magic with another moderate woman — Arnold-Jones. Arnold-Jones had a sterling reputation as “Lady Sunlight” (or Lady Sunshine according to her Twitter account) for bringing webcasting to the state legislature.
The result? A 59 percent to 41 percent victory for Lujan Grisham over Arnold-Jones. This is the second time in three races that Democrats have cleared the 55 percent barrier in the 1st Congressional District.
In large part, this is thanks to the dominance of Democrats in Bernalillo County which makes up the vast majority of the 1st Congressional District — Lujan Grisham won 59.66 percent to 40.09 percent in Bernalillo county.
Before the 2008 election, Democrats had never held the race, but had come tantalizingly close in 2006.
In that election, Wilson beat former Attorney General Patricia Madrid by just 861 votes. Wilson had previously won with 54.4 percent in 2005 and 55.34 percent in 2002.
The 2000 and 1998 races were anomalies thanks to a strong Green Party candidate. Wilson won with 50.34 percent of the vote in a race with a strong Green Party candidate in 2000. Another strong Green Party candidate meant that 48.44 percent was good enough for a 7 percent victory over the Democrat Phillip Maloof.
Before this, there were rarely close races in the district. Steve Schiff won by more than 55 percent in all but one race — his initial race against Tom Udall. The two were running to replace Manuel Lujan.
Lujan himself served for ten terms and only had races within ten percent three times — and only once since New Mexico earned a third congressional district in 1982.
In other words, this was a district that was a reliably Republican district for years.
Now it looks like the race is only competitive when there is a Republican wave year — if that. The race was never on the radar for national Republicans or the conservative Super PACs and non-profits that played heavily in dozens of races around the country.
The margin was similar to the reliably Republican 2nd Congressional District where Republican Steve Pearce won 59 percent to 41 percent over an unknown Democrat name Evelyn Madrid Erhard. In the 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan won 63 percent to 37 percent over Jefferson Byrd.
The three wide margins could show that congressional races will be early calls in coming elections — at least until the next redistricting.