ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won the Democratic nomination for New Mexico governor Tuesday and will take on Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce in November for the state's top job.
The three-term congresswoman defeated state Sen. Joseph Cervantes and former media executive Jeff Apodaca in a campaign focused on improving the state's lagging economy and public education.
Lujan Grisham leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.
She previously led state public health agencies under three former governors, including Democrat Bill Richardson. Her campaign received endorsements from an array of labor unions, progressive advocacy groups and several tribal governments.
State law prevents Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation's first Latina governor, from seeking a consecutive third term.
The next governor of New Mexico will take over a state with lagging employment opportunities and a troubled public education system that trails most of the nation in student academic achievement.
Concerns about public safety and effective policing in the state's city largest city, Albuquerque, have stoked an impassioned political debate at the state Capitol and a protracted standoff. The Democratic-led Legislature resisted Martinez's calls to address the problem with tougher punishments for violent crime and severe child abuse.
Tax cuts and austere budgeting during Martinez's two terms in office have trimmed the ranks of state government workers by thousands without restoring a robust economy. Candidates for both parties are searching for new recipes to reduce the second-highest unemployment rate in the country.
New Mexico is one of 33 governor's offices held by Republicans nationwide, and 26 of those are up for election this year. In eight of those states, including New Mexico, Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote over Trump in 2016.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 15 percentage points statewide, and New Mexico hasn't elected back-to-back Republican administrations since the 1920s.