RIO RANCHO – Marg Elliston of Corrales won re-election Sunday as chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, grabbing 87 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Rusty Pearce.
Elliston, a retired state employee, is set to serve a two-year term and preside over the party as New Mexico heads into an election cycle highlighted by open races for the U.S. Senate and 3rd Congressional District.
Her election came as hundreds of Democrats from across the state gathered at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho for a meeting of the party’s State Central Committee.
Elliston touted the gains Democrats made in last year’s general election – when they swept every statewide office, expanded their majority in the state House and flipped control of the 2nd Congressional District. The election also brought a historic number of female lawmakers to the Capitol, where women now make up 35 percent of the state Legislature, their largest share in at least 52 years.
“We’ve remade the Roundhouse in the image of New Mexico,” Elliston told the audience Sunday.
The central committee re-elected her 353-51 over Pearce. He argued that it was time for new leadership and highlighted his role as campaign manager for Kim Stewart, who won election in Doña Ana County last year to become New Mexico’s first openly gay sheriff.
Elliston took office a year ago to fill the unexpired term of Richard Ellenberg, who had resigned amid criticism over his response to sexual misconduct allegations levied against a prominent union leader, Jon Hendry, and a former Doña Ana County commissioner, John Vasquez.
Sunday’s meeting offered a peek at what’s shaping up to be the highest-profile race in New Mexico next year – the campaign to succeed U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who is retiring.
The two most prominent Democrats in the race – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver – each delivered short speeches to start Sunday’s meeting. The audience greeted each candidate with shouts of support.
Luján, who as assistant speaker is one of the top four Democrats in the U.S. House, spoke about his role in helping elect a Democratic majority in the House last year to take on President Donald Trump.
“We are standing up to Trump’s hateful policies,” he said.
Toulouse Oliver, a former Bernalillo County clerk, said she had worked as New Mexico’s chief election officer to impose new disclosure requirements on “dark money” political spending.
The Senate, she said, “is one of the last old boys clubs, and I’m ready to break down those doors.”
Luján’s entry into the Senate campaign creates an open race for his seat in Congress, where he represents Santa Fe and northern New Mexico.
Toulouse Oliver, meanwhile, won election last year to a four-year term as secretary of state, so she doesn’t have to give up her position to run for the Senate.
Also Sunday, the State Central Committee on Sunday elected Marcus Porter of Albuquerque as vice chairman of the party.
The chairman of the state Republican Party is former congressman Steve Pearce. He was elected to lead the GOP in December.