Lovejoy first, Shelly second

(Times photo - Althea John)

Lynda Lovejoy reacts to her unofficial total of 17,137 votes on primary election night at the Window Rock Sports Center on Wednesday.

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 5, 2010

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(Times photo - Althea John)

Lynda Lovejoy, left, and Vice President Ben Shelly will face off for president in the general election on Nov. 2. They congratulate each other at the Window Rock Sports Center on Wednesday.

It was obvious from the first chapter results to come into election central Tuesday night that it would be Lynda Lovejoy's night to shine.

And so it was as she outdistanced the other 11 candidates running for Navajo Nation president, ending up with an unofficial tally of 17,137 votes (35.7 percent of the total vote), more than twice that of her nearest challenger and far more than she polled in the 2006 presidential primary (10,513 votes).

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Vice President Ben Shelly, who finished with 7,763 votes (16.2 percent), came in second Tuesday, meaning he and Lovejoy now advance to the general election, scheduled Nov. 2.

Donald Benally, a longtime Shiprock political figure, finished third with a respectable 6,082 votes (12.7 percent).

The other candidates, in order of their finish, were: Rex Lee Jim, 4,224 (8.8 percent); Sharon Clahchischilliage, 3139 (6.5 percent); Arbin Mitchell, 2809 (5.8 percent); D. Harrison Tsosie, 2718 (5.7 percent); Dale Tsosie, 2142, (4.5 percent), Daniel Peaches, 749 (1.6 percent); Anthony Begay, 620 (1.3 percent), Jerry Todacheenie, 461 (1.0 percent) and 209 (0.4 percent) for write-in candidates.

All numbers are subject to change once the contested votes are decided.

Turnout was relatively light with 48,511 of 110,645 registered voters in the tribe casting votes, or 43.84 percent.

Navajo Election Administration Director Edison Wauneka said early in the count that he was hoping the final figure for turnout would be over 50 percent, but it came nowhere close to that.

Lovejoy, who won handily in almost every chapter that was not home to a competing candidate, did well throughout the reservation. In the Eastern Navajo Agency, where she is from, she got 43.8 percent of the vote. Her worst showing was in the Northern Agency where she received 25.6 percent of the vote.

Shelly's home agency, Eastern, also gave him his biggest support, but it was only about half (23.1 percent) of what Lovejoy got there. Northern was also his worst showing (9.5 percent cent).

A big reason why the two top vote getters looked weak in Northern Navajo was because of Benally, who captured 30.2 percent of the vote there. In other agencies he got less than 10 percent of the total.

A night of firsts

Despite the stormy weather, about 300 people showed up at the Window Rock Sports Center to watch the votes being counted. This was about half of what it has been in past years, even for a primary election. Four years ago election central was mobbed with Lovejoy and Shirley supporters, even on the night of the primary.

This year the count went a lot faster than in the past, which allowed Lovejoy to make her triumphal entrance into the sports center at about 8:45 p.m.

This primary marked a number of firsts in Navajo Nation history.

It's the first time a woman has gotten the most votes in a presidential primary, the first time that a New Mexico resident has come in first, and the first time that two New Mexicans will face each other in the runoff for president.

Followed by about 50 supporters, Lovejoy said the wide margin of victory didn't come as a surprise.

"I felt it was going to be a big win," she said, adding that she felt the Navajo people want "to go in a different direction."

"The people want something different," she said.

When Lovejoy ran four years ago, people made a lot out of the gender issue - the first Navajo woman with a real shot at the presidency. But this time around, she said, the people seem to be more influenced by the changes she wants to bring about than by her gender.

"The people have embraced my message to go into a different direction," Lovejoy said.

On the question of a running mate, she said and her staff are looking at about five names, all male and all from Arizona. One or two of the candidates were her opponents in the primary, she said.

"We only have a short window to make the decision - by next Monday - and we will have it done by then," she said.

Shelly surprised

Shelly didn't arrive until almost an hour later. He expressed surprise that he had done so poorly in many Arizona chapters - polling just 14.8 percent of the vote in the Chinle Agency, 15.6 percent in the Fort Defiance Agency, and 15.9 percent in Western Navajo.

Confident that he would do well in Eastern Navajo, Shelly said he had concentrated his campaigning in Arizona.

"I spent most of my time in Arizona," he said. "New Mexico pulled me through in the primary. I'm just going to have to hit Arizona harder for the general election."

But in the end, Shelly was fairly satisfied with how well he did on Tuesday.

He said he plans to emphasize his experience as vice president in the run-up to the general election, including hands-on work on many issues that directly affected the Navajo people.

In talking with reporters at the sports center, Shelly stressed that he would push for changes if elected, including a possible overhaul of the Navajo Nation Code.

He said plans are now in place for the Division of Transportation - recently bumped up to full division status by the current council - to take a bigger role in road improvements on the Navajo Nation, something he said would benefit the Navajo people greatly in years to come.

Up to now that's been a BIA responsibility, but the tribe is poised to take it over, along with the federal funding that goes with it.

Shelly said he has appointed a committee to look over possible candidates to join him as a running mate.

He's making no arbitrary exclusions, he said, but most presidential hopefuls look to add to their base of support, so historically the vice president candidates are from a different part of the reservation.

Shelly said he is going to leave it up to the committee to make most of the decisions, but if it comes down to two or three candidates of equal stature, he'll step in and make the final decision.

Benally said Wednesday his problem was that he didn't visit enough chapters and had no money for radio and newspaper ads.

"I only visited 14 chapters," he said, adding that if he had started campaigning earlier and introduced himself at more chapters, he could have finished a strong second.

Dale Tsosie, the only other presidential candidate to stop by the sports center Tuesday evening, came in with a small entourage just before Shelly arrived.

Tsosie blamed his poor showing on the confusion that surrounded this primary and the fact that he had to campaign while working full-time. As a result, he said, he was not able to get his message out to the voters as well as he wanted.

Being from Arizona, Tsosie might appeal to either Lovejoy or Shelly as a running mate, but said he would consider joining another candidate's ticket only after determining that he or she is "a godly person."

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