It looks like the streak is over for Valencia County.
Since 1952, Valencia County has consistently mirrored how the United States vote in a presidential election. Valencia County voters have correctly “predicted” in the past 17 presidential elections.
This year, the tradition ended as local voters cast 17,245 votes for President Donald Trump and 14,051 for Joe Biden.
Even though Trump carried the county, Biden took the popular vote with more than 75 million votes to Trump’s nearly 71 million. Biden also is projected to win the electoral college 289 to 214.
The county’s accuracy for picking presidents has been the subject of articles in nationwide publications such as Politico and even foreign news film crews.
As Kelly Cross was closing up the Belen Art League Gallery on Becker Avenue, a film crew of three from Denmark approached him. They were filming a documentary on Valencia County’s propensity for presidential accuracy and happened to come to downtown Belen.
“I guess I was the first warm body they saw,” Cross said with a laugh.
The crew came into the gallery and set up for the interview with Cross, who said they were very excited to hear about the city’s developing arts and culture district.
The crew asked about the culture and diversity of the county, he said, as well as what makes Valencia County attractive.
“I talked about how totally at home I feel here. The community welcomed me with open arms,” he said, noting he’s a fairly new resident in the county.
Cross said he didn’t know about the county’s tradition of picking the president but several people he spoke to did.
“I guess you know if you know,” he said. “And it just goes to show, you never know who will come wandering through.”
Cross said the documentary was due to air the Monday before Election Day on the Denmark version of CBS.
Saying Valencia County was not only the heart of New Mexico but the heart of the United States, Democratic Party of Valencia County Chairwoman Joan Baker said there is a great deal of diversity in Valencia County.
“We have rural areas, under-served communities, large areas with economic development happening — we have little pieces of different parts of the U.S. right here in Valencia County,” Baker said. “This county has a touch of everybody — there’s a strong religious community, we have aging communities and areas like the green belt. In the melting pot of the U.S., you can find someone to represent that here in Valencia County.”
Combine that with a populace of what she calls thoughtful voters, and maybe that’s why Valencia County has been something of a bellwether for presidential races.
“We have voters who do thorough and extensive research. They don’t always vote their party but they always vote their heart,” she said. “We also know our local Democrats know our elected officials. Sometimes that can pull us over the (party) line.”
Baker said Valencia County residents are passionate about their votes, about knowing and understanding their votes and not always listening to pundits.
“They vote with their heart and I believe that reflects the average American voter,” she said.
Baker called 2020 the hardest and strangest election ever seen, and because Valencia County moves with the ebbs and flows of the country, she predicted we’d keep our streak this year.
“Whatever happens, we were all neighbors before this and we’ll all be neighbors after this election,” she said.
The wide range of people from different backgrounds and values might be the key to it all, said David Gardner, Valencia County Republican Party chairman.
“I’ve thought about it and wondered. In some sense, we’re a microcosm of the whole country,” Gardner said. “We have Democrats that range from conservative to liberal or progressive, and Republicans who are very conservative to those who are on the more liberal end of the spectrum.”
Valencia County has a good cross section of people politically, economically and morally, he said.
“We have a lot of rural awareness and we’re close to urban areas. That perspective might not be as common but surely there are other communities that fit that demographic,” Gardner said. “It’s certainly something that’s interesting about us. Although, I’m not sure how to use that fact. I don’t see how it can predict the outcome.”
While the streak was definitely something interesting about Valencia County, Gardner said he hoped all the other great things about the area didn’t get lost.
“I wouldn’t want people to overlook some of the other great things about Valencia County,” he said. “It’s an amazing place to live. It’s much more personal and friendly than Albuquerque or other more urban places.”