Haaland

Debra Haaland

Debra Haaland, former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor, filed Tuesday to run for metropolitan Albuquerque’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Success in next year’s elections would make the Laguna Pueblo member the first Native American woman elected to Congress.

She joins an increasingly crowded field to replace Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for governor in 2018.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis and law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez have already launched campaigns for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat. Former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, also a Democrat, is said to be mulling a run, too.

An unsuccessful contender for lieutenant governor in 2014 on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Gary King, Haaland joins the race fresh off a two-year term as state party chairwoman during which she touted retiring the organization’s financial debts.

She also helped lead Democrats in winning control of the state House of Representatives and delivering the state to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. She was known for something of a barnstorming approach to the party’s top job, crisscrossing the state to meet with party activists.

A graduate of The University of New Mexico and its law school, Haaland, 56, is former chairwoman of the Laguna Development Corp., which runs the pueblo’s gaming enterprises and other businesses. She also worked as a tribal administrator.

“I’ve spent my life advocating for the underrepresented, advancing progressive values, and working tirelessly to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot,” Haaland said in a statement. “I want to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and it would be an honor to be that voice for our communities, our families, and for all of us.”

Democratic candidates in the 1st Congressional District, includes most of Albuquerque, all of Torrance County and parts of Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties, will likely try to focus the election on opposition to President Donald Trump.

Democrats may have at least a slight advantage in the general election, having held the seat since 2009. The party’s presidential candidates have won the district since at least 2000. And far more voters in the district are registered as Democrats than as Republicans. But in attacking Haaland within hours of officially starting her campaign, the state Republican Party signaled it is eyeing the district.

Haaland may face criticism from some Democrats who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in last year’s presidential primary election and viewed her as biased against them. A small group of Sanders supporters even sought to remove her as party chairwoman.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.