New Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall

 
At least four prominent Democrats are eyeing bids to succeed Udall, multiple sources familiar with their thinking said, including two statewide-elected officials and two members of Congress.
 
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State Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) may be the first candidate out of the gate. Balderas, 45, will announce his intentions Thursday morning on an Albuquerque radio station. A spokesman said Balderas would release a video at the same time, a strong indication that the two-term attorney general is moving toward a Senate bid.
 
 
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) is also likely to jump in the race, according to one senior New Mexico Democrat who had spoken directly to her. Oliver, first elected statewide in 2016, has raised her profile this legislative session by pushing an ambitious package of voting rights measures.
 
Perhaps the most prominent Democrat eyeing the race is Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D), the No. 4 Democrat in House leadership. In the 24 hours since Udall announced his retirement, dozens of friends from New Mexico and Democratic colleagues in the Capitol reached out to Lujan and encouraged him to run. Sources close to Lujan say he is leaning toward jumping in the Senate race.
 
"I've been humbled by the amount of calls and encouragement that we've been getting from around New Mexico. So we're going to continue to visit with people from around the state, and consider how best we can serve the beautiful state that I call home," Lujan told The Hill.
 
He declined to say whether he would run, praising Udall's two terms in the Senate.
 
Lujan's interest in a Senate seat comes even as he ascends the ranks of Democratic leadership in the House. He is close to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCalifornia Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry California Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments MORE (D-Calif.), coming off two terms as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and seen as a potential future candidate for Speaker.
 
But Lujan's path to the Senate would almost certainly be easier than his path to the Speaker's office. Both of Pelosi's longtime lieutenants -- Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe case for congressional pay raises Approve USMCA before it's too late Lawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos Clyburn22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Impeachment will reelect Trump Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-S.C.) -- have eyed the top job for years. And Lujan, 46, is just one of a handful of ambitious and talented young leaders looking to climb the leadership ladder, including Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), DCCC Chair Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women DCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women Democrats set to use McConnell's legislative graveyard against him MORE (D-Ill.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? Schiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' MORE (D-Calif.), a Pelosi protege.
 
A source close to Lujan said future thoughts of moving up the leadership ladder were not factors in his deliberations about whether to run for Udall's Senate seat.
 
 
"Thank you for love and encouragement New Mexico!" Haaland tweeted late Tuesday. "I hear you, and I'm giving the Senate race a lot of thought and consideration. I'll let you know when we've got news to share!"
 
Few Republicans immediately declared their interest in mounting a race that would be an uphill battle in an increasingly blue state that former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBroadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Facing challenge from Warren, Sanders touts strength against Trump MORE won by 8 percentage points in 2016. Republicans have not won a Senate race in New Mexico since Pete Domenici won his final term in 2002, and their last prominent statewide officeholder, former Gov. Susana Martinez, left office earlier this year with dismal approval ratings.