ALBUQUERQUE — David F. Cargo, a maverick Republican who became the youngest governor of New Mexico and served two terms in the turbulent 1960s, died Friday at the age of 84. Mr. Cargo had been in an Albuquerque nursing home for about two years following a stroke.
Known as ‘‘Lonesome Dave,’’ Mr. Cargo championed the film industry as economic development and established the first state film commission. He also was an early advocate of a policy for apportioning legislative seats that has altered the political landscape in New Mexico during several decades.
Mr. Cargo earned his nickname during his first bid for governor in 1966, when he had little support from Republicans and traveled the state alone in a 1959 Chevrolet to campaign in rural areas and small towns typically bypassed by his better-funded Democratic opponent, a longtime state Senate leader.
A sheepherder on horseback called him ‘‘Lonesome Dave’’ during a chance encounter when the candidate got out of his car on a muddy road to greet the man. A newspaperman with Mr. Cargo used the exchange in a story and the nickname stuck.
‘‘People started seeing me as a guy who was battling business-as-usual and the special interests all by himself. Although I had always been the underdog, the name Lonesome Dave crystallized that in peoples’ minds,’’ Mr. Cargo wrote in an autobiography in 2010.
He exhibited a liberal streak in his political philosophy. He opposed anti-union, right-to-work measures and proposed abolishing the death penalty. In his first year as governor, Mr. Cargo urged the Legislature to increase the minimum wage, raise unemployment compensation benefits and start offering state financing for kindergarten programs.
‘‘As the years passed, you realize he really was ahead of his time with a lot of the stuff he was doing,’’ his son Patrick said. ‘‘He cared so much about the state that he didn’t mind taking on a lot of those tasks and partnering and really reaching across the aisle.’’
Democrats controlled New Mexico when Mr. Cargo ran for governor in 1966. Only two other Republicans had won statewide office in the previous three decades. However, he actively courted the votes of organized labor, Hispanics, and other minorities that typically backed Democrats. Mr. Cargo dismayed the political establishment by winning with nearly 52 percent of the vote statewide.
He took office at age 37, the youngest man ever to serve as governor of New Mexico. He won reelection to another two-year term in 1968.
‘‘New Mexico lost a great friend, a leader, and a tireless advocate for all New Mexicans,’’ Governor Susana Martinez said. ‘‘Cargo and I shared a passion for literacy and he dedicated much of his life to it by raising thousands of dollars to help build and maintain 12 libraries throughout rural New Mexico in places like Mora, Anton Chico, Villanueva and Corona. Governor Cargo will be missed, but his legacy will live on.’’
Born in Dowagiac, Mich., Mr. Cargo received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan in 1953 and then served two years in the Army in Germany during the Korean War. He earned a law degree from the University of Michigan.
Mr. Cargo was elected to the Legislature in 1962, and he won reelection to another two-year term.
After leaving the governorship, Mr. Cargo never again won elective office in New Mexico despite campaigns for the US Senate, Congress, and mayor of Albuquerque.
He lived in Oregon for several years and ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer there in the 1980s, but later returned to New Mexico.