AP roundup: Key statewide races

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is making history in the general election as voters are poised to elect the state's first female governor.

Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish waged a bare-knuckled campaign in which they pummeled one other with attack ads for months.

Martinez, district attorney in Dona Ana County since 1997, became the nation's first Hispanic woman nominated for governor when she won a five-way primary in June.

Denish has served as lieutenant governor since 2003, and was the first woman in New Mexico to hold the elective post.

Kenneth Gomez of Bloomfield is an official write-in candidate but is not listed on the ballot.

There's no incumbent in the race. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson was barred from seeking re-election because he served two consecutive terms.

However, Richardson remained a central figure in the campaign. Martinez ran as if the election was a referendum on the governor, whose popularity sank amid high unemployment and federal investigations into pay-to-play allegations.

Martinez called it the "Richardson-Denish administration" and ads showed a photo of Denish alongside a smiling Richardson. "We can't afford four more years of the same," the announcer said in one ad aired late in the campaign.

The race for governor was Martinez's first bid for statewide elective office. She vowed to roll back many of Richardson's policies, including laws allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses and the children of illegal immigrants to receive lottery-backed college scholarships if they graduate from a New Mexico high school. She advocated reinstating the death penalty, which was repealed in 2009.

Martinez, 51, once was a Democrat but became a Republican before successfully running in 1996 for Dona Ana County district attorney against her former boss.

She was born in El Paso, Texas, and worked as a security guard for her family's business when she was in high school. She received her law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1986 and went to work in New Mexico as an assistant district attorney.

Denish, 61, was Richardson's running mate in 2002 and 2006. During the campaign, she portrayed herself as the candidate with the most experience to revive New Mexico's sputtering economy. She advocated tax credits for small businesses to create jobs, proposed to ban payday loans and expand early childhood education programs.

Before becoming lieutenant governor, Denish owned a company in Albuquerque that did market research and fundraising for non-profits. She served as chairwoman of the state Democratic Party in 1999-2001.

Denish was born in Hobbs and grew up in a political family in the Little Texas area of southeastern New Mexico. Her father, Jack Daniels, served in the New Mexico Legislature and ran unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senate in the early 1970s.

Attorney General

Voters were deciding Tuesday whether to keep Democratic incumbent Gary King as New Mexico's attorney general or replace him with Republican challenger Matt Chandler of Clovis, the district attorney in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Chandler hammered on the issue of governmental corruption during the campaign, contending corruption had a strong hold on New Mexico and the state could not move forward with other priorities until it was addressed.

King responded that his office had done a lot to address corruption, and that's one reason there had been so much discussion about the subject.

He pointed to the governmental accountability division he created to deal with corruption and said he'd expand that office in a second term. Chandler has proposed a public corruption hot line for whistleblowers or others with tips on corruption.

It's been an expensive race, with King out-fundraising and outspending Chandler about 2-to-1.

Reports from the secretary of state's office show Chandler raised $513,420 and spent more than $491,500 during the year while King raised more than $1 million and spent more than $952,000.

The pace picked up in the last weeks of the campaign. Finance reports filed for the period of Oct. 5-26 show King spending $484,000 and Chandler spending $283,000. At least 90 percent of the spending went for advertising.

Chandler urged voters to choose a "professional prosecutor" over King, whom he labeled a "professional politician." King, on the other hand, urged people "not to take a chance on a rookie." Each accused the other of lying about his opponent's record.

King is a former state lawmaker and son of New Mexico's longest-serving governor, the late Bruce King.

Chandler, who was elected as district attorney in 2004, is the son of former state Sen. Caleb Chandler.

Secretary of State

Voters have the last word Tuesday as they decide whether to keep embattled Secretary of State Mary Herrera.

Hampered by allegations of misconduct, Herrera, a Democrat, is seeking re-election as New Mexico's top elections official. She is facing a tough test against state Sen. Dianna Duran, a Tularosa Republican who is giving the GOP hope of claiming the secretary of state's office for the first time since 1930.

Herrera has spent the last several months trying to convince voters that she has cleaned up the secretary of state's office since inheriting problems left by her predecessor, who was indicted last year on fraud and other charges following an investigation into how federal money was spent on a voter education project.

Herrera said her audits have been clean, taxpayer money has been saved, a new campaign finance reporting system was installed on a limited budget and she successfully oversaw one of the largest elections in New Mexico history in 2008.

But her touted accomplishments have taken a back seat to allegations raised by her former elections director.

Herrera was accused earlier this year of ordering employees to collect signatures for her re-election campaign and soliciting donations from businesses that contract with the state to support training seminars for county clerks' staff.

Herrera denies any wrongdoing, but the state attorney general's office has confirmed it's investigating and the FBI has talked to her former employees.

Herrera also has been criticized by some county clerks for a recent decision to allow a gubernatorial write-in candidate on the ballot despite him not having a running mate.

Last week, the secretary of state's office was again thrust into the spotlight when county elections officials complained of problems with New Mexico's voter registration computer system. They said early voting was delayed at some locations because poll workers weren't able to access the system.

The county officials blamed the secretary of state's office for the expiration of a security certificate, which is needed for a secure online connection with the voter registration system.

Herrera's office said the glitch was resolved about an hour after a county clerk reported the problem.

Duran, who served as Otero County clerk for two terms before being elected to her Senate seat in 1992, said the problems brought to light during Herrera's tenure make it clear changes need to be made.

Land Commissioner

No matter which way New Mexico voters lean on Tuesday, new leadership will be headed to the State Land Office.

Incumbent Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons, a Republican, cannot run again because of term limits. His departure cleared the way for GOP political newcomer Matt Rush, a Roosevelt County farmer and rancher who is up against a seasoned Democrat, former Land Commissioner Ray Powell.

Many contend the land commissioner is one of the most powerful people in state government, wielding control over more than 13 million acres of mineral estate and 9 million acres of surface estate with the potential to bring in millions of dollars to New Mexico's coffers each year.

The Land Office has collected more than $3 billion over the past seven years. Most of that goes to public schools and other trust beneficiaries.