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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Two-term Attorney General Gary King won New Mexico's Democratic gubernatorial contest Tuesday for the right to challenge Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in the general election.
Martinez, who's favored to win re-election, is a rising star in GOP circles as the nation's first female Hispanic governor. The first-term governor had no primary election opponent.
King defeated four other candidates with a little over a third of the vote, according to unofficial incomplete returns. He led in the vote-rich Albuquerque metropolitan area and large swaths of the rest of the state, including ranching and oil-producing regions.
"This is the battle for the future of New Mexico — and this starts tomorrow," King told cheering supporters in a victory speech.
He pointed out that a recent report ranked New Mexico worst in the country in child well-being.
"We are going to stand together for families. We're going to stand together for the working people in the state of New Mexico. We're going to stand together for teachers and education."
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 amassed a hefty campaign war chest of more than $4 million and aired 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 hammered at that theme in remarks to party loyalists on election night, saying the primary results "make clear what this race is really all about: the past versus the future, moving forward or taking our state backward."
"Do we want a governor who is willing to lead, willing to shake things up, who truly believes the best days are ahead of us?" Martinez asked. "Or do we want a governor who believes that our best days are behind us — that we should turn back the clock."
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 and economic problems.
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
Rael touted his more than 30 years of experience in local, state and federal government jobs. He helped launch the Rail Runner commuter rail system while serving as head of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, a regional planning agency that oversees train operations.
Morales has served in the state Senate since 2008, representing a southwestern New Mexico district. He is a former Grant County clerk and has worked as a hospital administrator and special education teacher.
Lopez, a consultant, has been a member of the Senate since 1997. She represents a district in Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city.