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New Mexico election spurs rise in early voter participation

November 6, 2018
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Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce, left, and lieutenant gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Garcia Holmes, right, speak at a New Mexico GOP rally in Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. New Mexico candidates for governor, a lone Senate seat and two open congressional districts barnstormed through major cities Monday to rally supporters in the wake of record-breaking early voter turnout. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce, left, and lieutenant gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Garcia Holmes, right, speak at a New Mexico GOP rally in Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. New Mexico candidates for governor, a lone Senate seat and two open congressional districts barnstormed through major cities Monday to rally supporters in the wake of record-breaking early voter turnout. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico candidates for governor, a lone Senate seat and two open congressional districts barnstormed through major cities Monday to rally supporters in the wake of record-breaking early voter turnout.

More than 430,000 ballots were cast before the close of early voting Saturday, up from about 255,000 in the 2010 midterm election, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office announced. Gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham made weekend campaign appearances alongside incumbent Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in Democratic strongholds of Las Cruces and Las Vegas, New Mexico.

A poll published in the Albuquerque Journal showed Lujan Grisham with a substantial lead over Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce. Pearce, a former Air Force pilot and oilfield entrepreneur, focused campaigning Monday in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Pearce dismissed polls showing him behind, arguing there will be better than expected turnout among Republicans and Democrats who will cross over for him. “You’re going to be surprised,” he promised.

But confident Democrats late Monday were already boosting that they had an edge in early voting and ended a rally in Albuquerque’s historic Hispanic South Valley by dancing to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”

Lujan Grisham urged all activists who voted early to volunteer to get more people to the polls to help Democrats in down-ticket races.

Registered Democrats dominated early voting in Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque and neighboring suburbs, casting nearly 91,000 ballots to about 52,000 from registered Republicans.

Heinrich is seeking a second term in a three-way race against Republican political newcomer Mick Rich and Libertarian Gary Johnson, a former governor and presidential candidate who entered the race in August.

Rich said he was vastly outspent by Heinrich but believed he was going to at least come out ahead of Johnson. “So we’ll see how it all turns out,” he said.

Pollsters predicted a close finish for Pearce’s open congressional seat in a contest between Republican state Rep. Yvette Herrell and Xochitle Torres Small.

Republicans also have focused energy on supporting Pat Lyon’s campaign for state land commissioner against Democrat state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard.

The office oversees development contracts for oil and renewable energy production across millions of acres of state trust land to fund public education. Current State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, who defected from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party while in office, is not seeking a second term.

The New Mexico secretary of state on Sunday reported 430,796 ballots had been cast as of the close of early voting over the weekend. Midterm elections in 2014 attracted about 255,000 early and absentee votes. In 2010, the tally was nearly 300,000.

A Lujan Grisham victory could hand Democrats unified control of the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time since 2010, as an oil production boom is providing a windfall in state government income.

All seats in the state House, where Democrats hold a 38-32 majority, are up for election.

Democrats are seeking re-election as secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer.

Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Absentee ballots are due by 7 p.m. at Election Day polling places or county clerks’ offices.

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Associated Press writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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