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AZTEC — Two candidates hope to be the first woman to represent the 3rd Congressional District in New Mexico following the primary election.

Democratic candidate Teresa Leger Fernandez and Republican candidate Alexis Johnson took early leads in the primary election.

Leger Fernandez is the apparent winner of the Democratic Party primary, according to unofficial election results. As of 1:40 p.m. June 3, she had 32,771 votes, or about 41% of the total votes. Meanwhile, Johnson led the Republican race with 15,403 votes, or approximately 37% of the total votes. Meanwhile, Johnson's opponent, Harry Montoya, had 14,429 votes, or nearly 35% of the votes.

There has never been a woman elected to represent Congressional District 3, which represents the northern section of the state, including Santa Fe, Taos, Rio Rancho and Los Alamos.

A Republican has only once held the 3rd Congressional District seat. Bill Redmond was elected in 1997 to serve the remainder of Bill Richardson's term after Richardson was appointed ambassador to the United Nations. Redmond served for two years before losing his re-election bid to Tom Udall in 1999.

The current congressman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, defeated his Republican challenger Jerald McFall with 63% of the votes in 2018.

Democratic primary

Leger Fernandez faced six other candidates in the Democratic Party primary while Johnson had two opponents in the Republican primary. The crowded field of candidates emerged after Luján announced he would run for U.S. Senate rather than seek re-election.

“This is a win for communities, families and workers all across our district, and I am grateful for the trust that voters have placed in our campaign’s vision for Northern New Mexico. Even in a time when we must continue to stay physically distant and so much tries to divide us, this campaign has always been about interconnectedness and coming together,” she said in a statement following her victory.

She emphasized that her team ran a positive campaign and said she was proud to have won "with a broad, diverse coalition of support from across the district."

“Together, we will continue to build our campaign community and work to earn every vote as we look towards November, because I am committed to being a uniting voice for us all," she said. "It’s time to take bold and courageous action to protect what we love — our health care, our democracy, and this beautiful place we call home. Ahora es Cuando!” 

Ahora es cuando, meaning now is the time, has been one of her campaign slogans.

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Teresa Leger Fernandez is running for the Democratic Party nomination for Congressional District 3 representing northern New Mexico. Wochit

In addition to Leger Fernandez, the Democratic field included:

  • Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya
  • New Mexico Rep. Joseph Sanchez
  • District Attorney Marco Serna
  • Former CIA operative Valerie Plame
  • Former deputy secretary of state John Blair
  • environmental lawyer Kyle Tisdel

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Leger Fernandez voted absentee, but that didn't stop her from heading out to the vicinity of multiple polling locations on June 2 to talk to supporters. She said she maintained the required distance from the polling locations.

She said some of her supporters also drove around displaying her campaign signs on their vehicles, and one person even flew a kite.

Leger Fernandez said her message of hope and optimism, while acknowledging the problems, resonated with voters, especially in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"My campaign has been about acknowledging that what we love is under attack, but then my campaign goes on and says, 'So we must take bold and courageous action to address it,'" she said when speaking to The Daily Times via phone on Election Day. "And people want that. They want to be very honest about acknowledging the problems that we have, but also (have a) very clear, optimistic vision that we can address these problems."

Those problems include the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on minority communities, including Native American communities in New Mexico.

"We need to be honest about the problem — that we are not adequately funding infrastructure and health care in Indian Country or for our most impacted communities and we need to address it," she said.

Leger Fernandez said she has been talking about the need to invest in infrastructure and health care even before the pandemic.

"We need to have somebody on the ground who understands these issues, not because I'm talking about them as part of a campaign, but because I've been working on them for the last 30 years," she said. "So when I talk about the need to have better rural health care, I come to that question and I come to that demand because I have been working on building health clinics in rural areas for two decades."

More election coverage: Incumbent faces predecessor in House District 65 race

Leger Fernandez has said throughout the campaign that the country needs to build 21st century infrastructure, including broadband and clean energy while completing the 20th century infrastructure of water and electricity.

She said her priorities include improving access to health care, addressing climate change, improving the education system and creating an innovation economy.

If elected, Leger Fernandez intends to co-sponsor the Energy Economy Act, which she said would invest money into communities like San Juan County that are highly dependent on fossil fuel industries.

She would also like to see job creation and said San Juan County has a lot of talented workers with skills like welding, which makes it an ideal location for new manufacturing businesses.

Republican primary

In addition to Johnson, the Republican primary included Harry Montoya and Karen Bedonie. Bedonie awaited election results at her house on the Navajo Nation, which was under curfew at the time due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Live results: Follow along here as local results are announced

As results began to come within half an hour of polls closing, Bedonie held less than a 1% lead over Johnson, but soon Johnson took the lead and began pulling away from Bedonie. By 8 p.m., Bedonie trailed both Johnson and Montoya.

The race remained too close to call throughout the night on June 2 and into the morning of June 3. However, Johnson held a narrow lead.

Johnson released two statements shortly after 1 a.m. June 3. One statement was in preparation for winning while the other statement would serve as her concession statement if she did not win the race.

"First off, I would like to thank the Republican Primary Voters who believed in my grassroots campaign and my promise of 'A Return to Traditional, New Mexican Family Values,'" she said in her victory statement. "I would like to thank my opponents Karen Bedonie and Harry Montoya for running hard races and I will ensure that your concerns, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Navajo Nation and Pueblos is heard in my campaign moving forward. I believe that I was selected by Republican Primary Voters due to my message of faith, family, freedom, and New Mexican pride. My main message has been to take on the far-left socialist policies in Washington D.C. I look forward to continuing my campaign to return the voice to the "forgotten New Mexican.'"

The statement she released if another candidate won the race was short and succinct: "Congratulations to the winner and I look forward to supporting and unifying our Republican Party for our conservative New Mexican values.  Thank you to all of my supporters."

Johnson is an environmental engineer who lives in Santa Fe and has campaigned on the five Es of economy, education, environment, entry into the U.S. and ensuring life.

"I've spent my life time and career making sure our air and water is clean while using our energy resources," she said, acknowledging that the environment is generally a topic associated with the Democratic Party.

If elected, she said she hopes to be the voice of the forgotten New Mexican. She described that group as those being drowned out by liberal politics.

Johnson said if she wins the nomination, she will be a foil to the Democratic candidate.

She said it is not uncommon for Democrats to say the Republicans do not reach out to Native Americans or people of color. However, Johnson highlighted that she is a woman of Hispanic and Native American decent.

"I will be knocking down that stereotype," she said.

She hopes she will be able to convince conservative Democrats who are pro gun and pro life to vote for her in the general election.

Johnson said if Bedonie or Montoya wins the party's nomination, she will be fully behind them.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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