Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has won an open U.S. House seat representing southern New Mexico's 2nd District in a closely watched race, completing a statewide sweep for Democrats and giving the diverse southwestern state its first U.S. House three-member delegation made up of all people of color.
The 33-year-old water rights attorney defeated Republican state lawmaker Yvette Herrell for a seat that has been held by the GOP for years, after officials in Dona Ana County tallied up absentee ballots late Wednesday.
The seat was open because the incumbent Republican, Rep. Steve Pearce, ran for New Mexico governor, a race he lost.
The victory comes as Democrats captured control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Torres Small ran as a moderate Democrat who promised to help the district's lucrative oil and gas industry and push for immigration reform.
Reached by phone late Wednesday, an emotional Torres Small struggled to fight back tears and was plagued by a cough. "This is my home," Torres Small said. "I am so honored to represent this district. It has been ignored by Washington for far too long."
The 54-year-old Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation and would have been one of the first Native American women elected to the House. Herrell ran as a staunch backer of President Donald Trump, his support for a border wall and refused to take part in any television debates with Torres Small.
Herrell's campaign did not immediately return phone and text messages. It's unclear if Herrell would ask for a recount.
Democrats have long targeted the heavily Hispanic congressional district that sits along the U.S.-Mexico border, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.
Herrell, a real estate businesswoman from Alamogordo, is a conservative on social issues and was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. She faced allegations early in the campaign that she failed to disclose on campaign finance reports that she had rented property to state agencies.
State records showed Herrell Properties took in $440,000 since 2013 by renting property to the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and New Mexico Environment Department. She later amended her reports following an investigation by The Associated Press.
Torres Small, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up Mormon, rarely mentioned Trump on the campaign trail and promised to uphold the region's "rural values." The avid hunter ran ads showing her with her guns, and she vowed to push for immigration reform and border security.
Torres Small also did not commit to voting for Nancy Pelosi for U.S. House Speaker should the Democrats gain control of the House.
Federal reports showed Torres Small raised more than three times as much money from July through September as Herrell. Federal Election Commission filings released last month show Torres Small pulled in around $1.9 million, while Herrell raised $564,000.
The district's conservative-leaning independents have intricate views on water, immigration, international trade and oil production and made the race hard to predict.
Torres Small joins Democrats Debra Haaland and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan who will make up New Mexico's first all-minority, three-member U.S. House delegation in its history. Haaland is one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress. Lujan is member of one of New Mexico's storied political Hispanic families.
They are believed to be the first all minority U.S. House delegation with at least three members from a state in U.S. history.