SANTA FE — When asked about their top priorities if elected, both candidates for lieutenant governor listed education, or early-childhood education, first and small business development second.

But, while Democratic incumbent Diane Denish and Republican challenger Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, from Sandia Park, share the same goals, each have a different vision how to achieve them.

"We agree that early learning is a good investment," Denish said. "But I will say, I think I'm more aggressive and bolder about it, and I think I have a better understanding of what can be accomplished politically."

Denish has served as the chairperson of the newly created Children's Cabinet, which has brought together the secretaries and other state officials from a variety of agencies dealing with children to ensure they are all working on the same agenda.

She has also been a leader in the movement to institute prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.

That pilot program started in 2005, and Denish said her goal is to make it available in every community statewide.

Beffort said the prekindergarten program was pushing through the Legislature, and there is no measure of its effectiveness.

"Instead of fully funding education and putting all the vocational programs back, all the PE and arts that the governor has kept out of the budget and the various needed reforms of legislation, instead they're pushing this new layer of pre-K in," she said.

Beffort said she also had concerns about the impact the program would have on private child care providers not in the pre-K program. Denish said those concerns were unfounded.

"In fact, the number of child care providers has gone up by 6 percent since we started pre-K," she said.

Beffort said she thinks the state's economic development efforts have targeted research-and-development firms and other specific industries, and have overlooked small businesses. The Save Smart program, which consolidates state purchasing, is an example of how the administration has harmed small businesses, she said.

"All those small businesses throughout New Mexico who used to supply all the state agencies, now they've lost their number-one client," she said.

Denish said the microlender program, which is run through the state's Small Business Investment Corp., has helped 1,000 small businesses. And, she said the state's efforts in the aviation, film and alternative energy industries will pay off with long-term, high-paying jobs.

Both candidates said they see the job of lieutenant governor as working in a supporting role to the governor.

"When you talk about a lieutenant governor, he or she should be there to support the broad programs that the leader of the state is leading with," Beffort said.

"I have very deep-bedded relationships on both sides of the aisle. I think I am known as an issue-only senator. I've never expressed partisan politics."

Denish said that she and Gov. Bill Richardson have developed a solid working relationship.

"I think we've been a great compliment to each other," she said. "The great thing about working for Gov. Richardson is, if you have an idea and you want to take it and run with it, he lets you run with it."

Name: Sue Wilson Beffort

Age: 60

Occupation: artist

Political party: Republican

Education: Bachelor's of arts

Experience: Serving third term in the New Mexico Senate

Campaign Web site: www.dendahlforgovernor.com

Name: Diane Denish

Age: 57

Occupation: lieutenant governor

Political party: Democratic

Education: Bachelor's of arts

Experience: Lieutenant governor, 2002-present; former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party

Education: Bachelor's of arts

Campaign Web site: www.dianedenish.com