Democrats nominated Gov. Bill Richardson (search) of New Mexico to be chairman of the 2004 presidential convention, a reflection of their desire to keep the party's Hispanics from voting Republican.

Marking one year before the convention in Boston, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (searchalso announced that Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP (search), was nominated to head the convention committee.

The convention posts typically would be named in the weeks closer to the convention -- and with the input of the party's nominee -- but the Democratic National Committee (search) had been under pressure from its Hispanic caucus to tap Richardson.

A former member of the House, Energy secretary in the Clinton administration and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson is the highest-ranking elected Hispanic official in the country.

"I think it's a recognition that Hispanics are major players in the presidential race," he said in an interview following the announcement Monday.

The Hispanic vote was crucial to President Bush's election in 2000. Previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters -- Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996 and Bush's father got 25 percent in 1992. The president secured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.

"We'll be trying to keep Hispanics in the Democratic column," Richardson said. "There's been some erosion."

Officials also announced that Rod O'Connor, a former White House aide who was chief of staff to the Democratic National Committee and chief operating officer of the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles, would serve as chief executive of the 2004 convention.