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Diane Denish loses to GOP's Susana Martinez in NM gov race

Diane Denish was defeated by Republican Susana Martinez who got 54 percent of the vote Tuesday night, according to unofficial returns. She was the first woman to be elected New Mexico's governor.

By Bob MasseyAssociated Press / November 3, 2010

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish a speech in which she concedes the race to Republican Susana Martinez in Albuquerque, N.M., on Nov. 2.

Craig Fritz/AP

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Republican Susana Martinez, who made history by becoming the nation's first female Hispanic governor, promised to chart a "new direction" for New Mexico by shrinking state government and turning around poorly performing schools.

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Martinez defeated Democrat Diane Denish by getting 54 percent of the vote Tuesday night, according to unofficial returns. She was the first woman to be elected New Mexico's governor.

There was no incumbent in the race, with Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson barred from seeking re-election because he is finishing his second consecutive term.

Martinez told supporters in Las Cruces that "we have taken a decisive step toward bringing bold change to New Mexico."

When the 51-year-old Martinez takes office Jan. 1, she will confront a looming budget shortfall that will force her to grapple with potentially unrealistic campaign promises not to raise taxes while protecting public schools and Medicaid from spending cuts.

The Republican also must deal with a Legislature controlled by Democrats, although with a smaller majority in the House after voters ousted several Democratic incumbents.

"As I said during the campaign, we must do more than just change the party in power if we're going to set a new course in New Mexico," Martinez said. "We must work across party lines — Republicans and Democrats — to move our state forward."

In conceding the race to Martinez, Denish also urged Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to work with the incoming governor to deal with the state's financial problems.

"There is hard work to do. It will require a willingness to compromise on both sides of the aisle. It will demand civility and respect," Denish said at a gathering of Democrats in Albuquerque. "This has been a hard-fought race but starting tonight is when we can do better if we all pull together for the state of New Mexico and the people."

Denish, 61, has served two terms as lieutenant governor and was Richardson's running mate in 2002 and 2006.

Martinez made Richardson a central figure in the campaign, running as if the election was a referendum on the Democrat, whose popularity sank amid high unemployment and federal investigations into pay-to-play allegations.

Throughout the campaign, Martinez criticized policies and double-digit spending increases that took place during the "Richardson-Denish administration." Many of her ads showed a photo of Denish alongside a smiling Richardson.

"We can't afford four more years of the same," the announcer said in one ad aired late in the campaign season.

In her victory speech, Martinez pledged to clean up corruption in government and to solve the state's financial problems.

"No longer will state government operate differently than any of us," said Martinez. "We're going to get our books in order and end the shell games that have taken over the Roundhouse in the last eight years."

The race for governor was Martinez's first bid for statewide elective office.

She vowed to roll back many of Richardson's policies, including laws allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses and the children of illegal immigrants to receive lottery-backed college scholarships if they graduate from a New Mexico high school.

She also advocated reinstating the death penalty, which was repealed in 2009.

Martinez once was a Democrat but became a Republican before successfully running in 1996 for Dona Ana County district attorney against her former boss.

She was born in El Paso, Texas, and worked as a security guard for her family's business when she was in high school. She received her law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1986 and went to work in New Mexico as an assistant district attorney.