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.
 
The spokesman, James Hallinan, declined to say whether Balderas would run. Balderas ran for a Senate seat in 2012, losing the Democratic primary to then-Rep. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill MORE (D), who went on to win the seat in the general election.
 
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 PelosiDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests 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 HoyerHouse approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnTop Democrat: 'Obstruction of justice' is 'too clear not to include' in impeachment probe GOP senator blasts Dem bills on 'opportunity zones' Harris: Suggestion that older African Americans are homophobic 'just nonsense' 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 JeffriesLive coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Lawmakers turn attention to potential witnesses at Judiciary impeachment hearings MORE (D-N.Y.), DCCC Chair Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi accuses Trump of 'bribery' in Ukraine dealings DCCC adds senior staffers after summer departures DCCC raises more than M in October MORE (D-Ill.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Top Republican: Democrats' weekend document dump shows impeachment inquiry is a 'farce' Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records 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.
 
The final wildcard is Rep. Deb HaalandDebra HaalandWarren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre Warren adds Ayanna Pressley as campaign co-chair Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (D), just three months into her first term in Congress. Haaland, one of the first two Native American women in Congress, has left the door open to a bid.
 
"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 ClintonWill the Horowitz report split the baby? Gabbard commemorates John Lennon's passing by singing 'Imagine' Bannon: Clinton waiting to enter 2020 race and 'save the Democratic Party from Michael Bloomberg' 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.