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New Mexico Democrats pick top contenders for June 7 primary

Family members of missing and slain Native Americans circle around New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, as she prepares to sign legislation during a ceremony in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. The measures will help to coordinate efforts among law enforcement and prosecutors, improve data collection, make resources more accessible to victims' families and boost awareness of the issue. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press file)

SANTA FE – New Mexico Democrats are deciding which candidates to put at the top of their primary election ballot in June as the party strives to retain control of every statewide office and challenge a Republican incumbent in Congress.

Convention-related events began Friday in Roswell and extend into the weekend, when party delegates begin balloting to endorse their favorite contenders.

Candidates need at least 20% of delegate votes to automatically appear on the June 7 primary election ballot, with the most popular candidate listed first.

The convention’s remote voting by local delegates takes place over a four-day period with results due in mid-March.

Competitive races for the Democratic nomination already are underway to succeed termed-out Attorney General Hector Balderas. Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez is competing against current State Auditor Brian Colón.

Vying for the nomination to replace Colón as auditor are Joseph Maestas, current chairman of the state Public Regulation Commission, and Zackary Quintero, recently employed by the governor as an ombudsman to review public complaints.

With no current GOP contenders for auditor, the primary could be decisive. The state auditor serves as a financial watchdog over local government and school district finances. The job was a political stepping stone for Balderas and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Two Democrats are competing for the Democratic nomination to try and succeed termed-out State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, including former magistrate judge and treasury programs manager Heather Benavidez. Former Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya of Rio Rancho also is pursuing the nomination to a post that oversees multibillion-dollar state accounts and participates in state investment and lending decisions.

Two Democrats are vying for the nomination to a congressional swing district held by Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo. Las Cruces City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez has the endorsement of prominent Democrats including Sen. Martin Heinrich. Lovington-based physician Darshan Patel also is seeking the District 2 nomination.

Unopposed Democrats seeking re-election include Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, State Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe in the 3rd District, and Rep. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque in the 1st District.

Toulouse Oliver is the state's top elections and campaign-finance regulator. The commissioner of public lands oversees lucrative natural resources contracts for oil, natural gas, grazing, timber and more that underwrite public education, heath care, the state budget and infrastructure spending.