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Secretary of state hopeful quits race

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Republican secretary of state candidate JoHanna Cox of Albuquerque dropped out of the race Wednesday, just over one week after securing her party’s official nomination, citing personal matters involving her family.

JoHanna Cox

While running for office, political newcomer Cox was also defending her actions as a private attorney in two state court lawsuits alleging legal malpractice. A third malpractice case filed against her and her then-law firm was settled in 2012.

Cox announced her withdrawal in a news release. Her decision opens the door for the state GOP to select a new nominee to run against Democratic incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver in the November general election.

“As a single mother who runs her own law practice, it was never easy to balance my full-time commitments with the demands of a statewide political campaign,” she said. “At this point, I must withdraw my candidacy to place my full focus on my responsibilities to my family.”

Cox, who had no opposition in last week’s primary election, has been sued for legal malpractice three times in the past five years, the Journal recently reported. Her statement did not mention the lawsuits.

In court records, Cox has denied she was negligent in representing clients, which included a public safety officers union, an adult nightclub and a widow who contended she lost out on a possible $90,000 in life insurance proceeds partly because of Cox. The latter case was resolved out of court just months after it was filed in 2012.

Meanwhile, the timing of her decision to end her campaign gives the state Republican Party the opportunity to put up another nominee to run in the Nov. 6 general election. If Cox had withdrawn from the race right before last week’s primary election, the GOP would have been stuck without a secretary of state candidate.

New Mexico GOP Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi said the party plans to convene a meeting of the state central committee in the coming weeks to select a new nominee.

“We are grateful to JoHanna Cox for taking on the challenge of running for office,” Cangiolosi said in a statement. “While we applaud her desire to serve the citizens of New Mexico, we understand that family comes first and certainly respect her decision to withdraw from the race to focus on her loved ones.”

There is a precedent in New Mexico of major party candidates stepping aside after winning a primary election.

In 2006, Republican gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron of Santa Fe bowed out of the race after former state GOP Chairman John Dendahl offered to replace him on the ticket. Dendahl went on to be defeated in that year’s general election by then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

New Mexico voters have elected only one Republican as secretary of state since 1930. That was Dianna Duran, who resigned from office in 2015 and pleaded guilty to illegally diverting campaign donations to fuel a gambling addiction.

In addition to Toulouse Oliver, who was first elected secretary of state in 2016, former state Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint has also qualified for this year’s general election ballot. She’s running as a Libertarian.

Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild reported from Albuquerque. Journal Capitol Bureau chief Dan Boyd reported from Santa Fe.