ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Female candidates are slated to make history in November in a closely watched congressional race in New Mexico, pointing to the growing political power of women in the American Southwest and a draw of talent that is helping reshape one of the nation's poorest districts.
Democrats and Republicans nominated women this week to compete for the open seat representing a region along the U.S.-Mexico border. A woman has never held the seat.
The race is pitting water attorney Xochitl Torres Small against GOP state lawmaker Yvette Herrell in a general election campaign expected to center on President Donald Trump, immigration and the North American Free Trade Agreement. The unpredictable district that has leaned Republican in recent years will help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both parties also nominated women in the open central New Mexico seat that encompasses Albuquerque. Women won big primary victories for governor and other races in the state and nationwide this week.
Republican state lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones is trying to recapture a central New Mexico seat for the GOP after years of Democratic control. Her opponent, former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Deb Haaland, is seeking to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Lloyd Princeton also is running as a Libertarian.
Whatever happens, New Mexico's three-member U.S. House delegation likely will be majority female next year, said Christine Marie Sierra, a retired University of New Mexico political science professor and co-author of Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America. That's because strong female candidates have emerged in both parties after years of training, education and organizing.
"It's a phenomenon that's occurring not just in New Mexico but across the country,'' Sierra said. "Women of color are a significant portion of this growth.''
For example, Yale-educated attorney Stacey Abrams of Georgia is seeking to become the first black woman elected governor in U.S. history. She easily won the Democratic nomination for Georgia's highest seat last month.
Former state Representative Paulette Jordan recently won the Democratic primary for Idaho governor. If she wins the general election, Jordan would not only be the first woman to serve as Idaho governor but also the first Native American woman to serve in that position in any state.
Torres Small, who's running for the southern New Mexico seat and is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, said she believes her "candidacy is at the right time'' as more women seek office.
Her campaign has excited Latina voters in the most Hispanic congressional district in the nation's most Hispanic state. But she said she is focusing on matters like economic development and increasing broadband service in rural New Mexico.
Less bickering is goal
Torres Small said she hopes she can at least do her part to tone down the partisan bickering.
"It's not against something, it's for something,'' Torres Small said. "You learn growing up in a small community to work together, and you don't start working together by throwing insults at each other across the playground.''
Herrell, who won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and is a strong Trump supporter, said she will focus on showing voters she endorses Trump's policies, such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and tax cuts.
Her candidacy has galvanized social conservatives who hope she can replace outgoing Republican U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, who is stepping down to run for New Mexico governor.
Herrell said she hasn't focused too much on the historic nature of her candidacy but acknowledges it.
"I think it's great that this district will finally be represented by a woman,'' said Herrell, a real estate agent. "I just hope it's me.''