Karen E. Bedonie, a mother of eight from the Navajo Nation, is among the Native candidates for U.S. Congress in 2020. She is seeking the Republican nomination for New Mexico's 3rd District. Photo courtesy campaign of Karen E. Bedonie

The election is today (and national races are just a year away)

At least ten candidates are already running for Congress #NativeVote20
Indian Country Today

It's election day. And, a year from now voters will go to the polls and select a new president, a new House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Plus across the country voters will be picking state legislatures, nearly a dozen governors, and scores of local offices.

Several states have elections today including Virginia and Mississippi. There is also an election in Utah's San Juan County. A ballot initiative would add new members to the county commission. That three member body has a majority of Navajos for the first time in the county's history and critics say the initiative is an attempt to roll back electoral success.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez urged a no vote on the initiative.

The Navajo Nation won against the county in 2012. The court found that the county had diluted the Navajo vote -- the majority of the county residents -- by using voting districts. The districts were re-drawn and a Navajo majority was elected. But this election could change that victory. And, as Nez pointed out in his written statement, "San Juan County, Utah, has a long history of undermining voters, particularly Navajo voters."

Beyond today’s vote, a year from now are the next national election. How does the 2020 election cycle look in comparison to the 2018? Two years ago at this point there were eight Native candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate. And, by election day a year later, across the country there were more than a hundred candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and state executive offices.

At this point in the 2018 election cycle there were nine candidates for Congress, four of them Republicans, Rep. Tom Cole, Choctaw, Oklahoma; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, in Oklahoma; Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, in New Mexico; and former state Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, Washington — as well as four Democrats — now Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico; Carol Surveyor, Navajo, in Utah; and Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols, Cherokee, in Oklahoma and J.D. Colbert, Choctaw, in Texas. There was one candidate for the U.S. Senate, Eve Reyes-Aguirre, Calpolli, in Arizona for the Green Party.

There are a couple of names not on this list, including Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, in Kansas. Why’s that? Because she did not begin her candidacy until February 2018.

This election we start with the four members who now serve in Congress: Cole, Mullin, Haaland and Davids. Two Democrats and Two Republicans. It’s likely they will all run for another term.

There is also a special election this winter in Wisconsin where Tricia Zunker, Ho-Chunk, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination. The winner of this election will serve in this Congress (and likely compete for the next one, too).

The state with the most action so far is New Mexico. Including Haaland there are five candidates for the House and Senate. On team GOP: Herrell and Karen Bedonie, Navajo, for the House and Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, running for the Senate. Democrat Dineh Benally, Navajo, is seeking a House seat as well.

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele is seeking the Democratic nomination for the House seat now held by presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Kahele is Native Hawaiian and his family is from a small fishing village, Miloli. (Kahele decided to seek the seat before Gabbard said she would not run again, and he likely leads the field, but expect other candidates and possibly even another Native Hawaiian.)

That totals eleven candidates for Congress in the 2019-2020 cycle.

So far. But remember that a couple of candidates, including Davids, did not enter the race until early in the year. So it’s likely that this list will grow.

There are no Native American candidates for state executive offices, including the office of governor. There were three tribal citizens running for governor two years ago, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

And, oh yes, there is a presidential election. That’s a big deal in Indian Country for many reasons but the most important might be an uptick in turnout. People really want to vote for president. That race is starting to narrow. The first actual votes will take place in Iowa in February.

What are the prospects for the Native candidates running for Congress? One way to answer that is to look at the fundraising.

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat, raised $345,616 from Hawaii donors in his bid for Congress. What's really interesting about that number: It's more than Gabbard’s presidential campaign raised in Hawaii over the same time frame.

In the New Mexico Senate race, Gavin Clarkson is leading the Republican challengers with donations topping $324,248 (as of Sept. 30, 2019) but that trails the leading Democrat, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and his $2.6 million.

In the House, Rep. Haaland collected $610,729 in the same time frame in the first district. In the second district, the incumbent, Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, has $1.6 million while among the challengers Yvette Herrell is at $441,403. In the third district, challenger Karen Bedonie raised less than $500 compared to the leading Democrat, Valerie Plame, who raised $683,122. Dineh Benally, a Democrat, had not filed before the last time period ended.

In Wisconsin, Tricia Zunker has yet to file a campaign finance report.

In general the incumbents are raising a lot of money. Oklahoma's Tom Cole has raised $686,272 but that's an understatement because he has a campaign chest that exceeds $1.5 million. His colleague, Markwayne Mullin already raised $555,244 during the same time frame.

Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports.

This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on November 5, 2019.

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