Perhaps no one has risen faster in New Mexico politics than Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who hasn't yet completed her first term.
She is a leading contender to head the U.S. Department of the Interior under President-elect Joe Biden.
Haaland's emergence as a national figure was unimaginable six years ago, when she was part of the Democratic debacle in New Mexico.
As a 53-year-old rookie candidate, Haaland lost the race for lieutenant governor in 2014. She was part of a hopeless campaign headed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gary King.
King couldn't raise money, and he didn't inspire voters. He dragged down the Democratic slate in what proved to be the last big year for state Republicans. Not only did Republicans hold the Governor's Office, they won control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 62 years.
A few months after the painful defeats of 2014, Democrats elected Haaland as state chairwoman of their party.
She had a hard job, but an easy act to follow. Trial lawyer Sam Bregman had done little as the Democratic chairman, and the 2014 election results proved it.
Haaland lacked Bregman's bravado, which was on display whether he was appealing to a jury or making a political speech.
Haaland would not be a show horse. In fact, she called herself a workhorse. She had labored for years to elect Democratic candidates.
Now she had a big title in a difficult time. With their surge in power, Republicans had their best chance in decades to reshape policy.
Haaland was relentless on Democratic issues, and she learned soon enough how to deliver biting commentary.
Republicans in the state Legislature tried in 2015 to outlaw compulsory fees if workers chose not to belong to a union. Many public unions in New Mexico didn't even charge the fees, but the Republicans made the bill their signature cause anyway.
Haaland had a sardonic reply.
"I've never heard so many Republicans talking about how we need to support choice," she said.
The Republican measures to reform labor law died in the state Senate, and Haaland made a favorable impression on fellow Democrats.
She helped rebuild her party with a significant assist from state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.
In 2016, Democrats regained control of the state House of Representatives and increased their majority in the state Senate. Hillary Clinton also carried New Mexico, though she lost the race for president to Republican Donald Trump.
The quick turnabout made it practical for Haaland to again run for public office. She decided to start near the top in 2018 with a campaign for Congress.
Haaland was one of six Democrats competing for the nomination in the Albuquerque-based 1st District.
Polling showed a tight race. More liberals were running than moderates. Many believed the large field would favor Damon Martinez, a former U.S. attorney for New Mexico and the most conservative of the Democratic contenders.
Not many saw a blowout coming, but it happened. Haaland won the primary with more than 40 percent of the vote. Martinez finished a distant second, 15 percentage points behind her.
Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo, easily won the general election over Republican Janice Arnold-Jones.
And Haaland made history in the process. She became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. The other is Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas.
As a freshman congresswoman, Haaland took up causes centered on Native Americans.
In a famous one, she co-sponsored a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to list Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medalist of the two events he won at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, the decathlon and the pentathlon.
Thorpe, who was an enrolled member of the Sac and Fox Nation, was stripped of his medals for a long stretch. He had made a few bucks playing semi-pro baseball when the Olympics was billed as a competition for amateur athletes.
Haaland also welcomed debate with Republicans. She focused attention on affordable health care a year before the coronavirus pandemic, and she voted to impeach Trump.
After Haaland easily won reelection this month, she surfaced as one of Biden's leading candidates to head the Department of the Interior, which manages the nation's public lands.
It's a job coveted by Westerners. New Mexico's two sitting U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, also have been mentioned as possibilities for the appointment, though neither with the frequency of Haaland.
None of this would have seemed possible on the gloomy night in 2014 when the King-Haaland ticket lost the race for governor and lieutenant governor.
Party regulars who gathered to watch the returns told Haaland it was all right, that she would make a comeback.
It was happy talk on a somber night, but they were right.
Haaland might have escaped a dead-end job. No lieutenant governor of New Mexico has ever gone on to win election as governor.
But a loser for lieutenant governor might soon be managing 450 million acres controlled by the U.S. government.
Hollywood would have rejected the screenplay as unbelievable. There might even have been a time when Haaland agreed.