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 HeinrichHealth care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats 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 PelosiWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team House revives agenda after impeachment storm Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public 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 revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives 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 JeffriesWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial MORE (D-N.Y.), DCCC Chair Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea Bustos Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats House Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts MORE (D-Ill.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Trump knocks authors of 'A Very Stable Genius': 'Two stone cold losers from Amazon WP' Democrats push back on White House impeachment claims, saying Trump believes he is above the law 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 ClintonDemocratic debates are magnet for lobbyists NYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders 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.