Democratic Attorney General Gary King cleared the first hurdle in his underdog bid to become governor, toppling four opponents in a lackluster primary race. His next challenge will be much more formidable.
King faces Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in the November general election and is at a decided disadvantage, even in a state that backed Democrat Barack Obama in the past two presidential elections.
Martinez has aired television campaign ads for weeks and has more than $4 million in the bank that she built up as a national political star after becoming the nation's first female Hispanic governor. She wasted no time to begin her race against King, scheduling three campaign stops Wednesday in the GOP stronghold of Farmington and the heavily Hispanic communities of Espanola and Las Vegas. Both are areas in northern New Mexico that Democrats badly need to win to have any chance in the governor's race.
King, in an email to supporters shortly after his victory, described the upcoming campaign as an "epic one-on-one battle" with Martinez. He and other Democrats planned a "unity" campaign event on Wednesday.
The Republican Governors Association was quick to criticize King. "His tenure as attorney general has been marred by shortcoming and failure," association Executive Director Phil Cox said in a statement.
In other campaigns Tuesday, Vietnam War veteran and retired Marine Col. Allen Weh easily defeated his GOP challenger to win the Republican primary and run against first-term Sen. Tom Udall. The Democratic senator is heavily favored to win, but Weh said he believes the tide is turning against Washington politicians like Udall. Other races included an attack-filled state treasurer's race, a handful of state House seats and two Public Regulation Commission contests, including one in western New Mexico where the winner likely faces no general election opponent.
King won about a third of the vote statewide. A key to his victory was coming out on top in the vote-rich Albuquerque metropolitan area and then leading in large swaths of the rest of the state, including ranching and oil-producing regions.
Santa Fe businessman Alan Webber ran second behind King, followed by former government administrator Lawrence Rael of Albuquerque and state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City. State Sen. Linda Lovejoy of Albuquerque trailed.
Without a primary opponent, Martinez has been able to air television advertisements to polish her image and frame the general election on her terms. One recent ad said Democrats would return to the "same failed agenda" of former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
Martinez told GOP supporters Tuesday night that the general election campaign is about "the past versus the future, moving forward or taking our state backward."
King will start the general election campaign with little money and a track record as a weak fundraiser. King had cash on hand of about $75,000 in his campaign account as of last week. He loaned his campaign $195,000 to help pay for television ads and mailings in the final stretch of the primary.
Democrats refrained from criticizing each other during the primary and focused their attacks on Martinez, blaming her for New Mexico's weak economy and a lack of progress on a host of nagging social economic problems such as a child-poverty rate that is among the country's highest.
King entered the gubernatorial race with the most name recognition of the Democratic candidates as a statewide officeholder and the son of New Mexico's longest-serving governor, the late Bruce King.
Webber was making his first bid for elective office. He co-founded the business magazine Fast Company in the 1990s and, along with investors, later sold it for more than $300 million. He was the leading Democratic fundraiser and jump-started his campaign with $450,000 in personal loans and contributions.