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New Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall

New Mexico Democrats are racing to line up support just days after Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling MORE (D) stunned the state's political class by announcing his retirement at the end of two terms in the Senate.
 
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 HeinrichSenate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico 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 PelosiSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' McCarthy says he supports Stefanik for House GOP conference chair Ode to Mother's Day 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 HoyerOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month Top Democrat: Bill to boost Capitol security likely to advance this month MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnGOP divided over expected Cheney ouster Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' Democrats hit crucial stretch as filibuster fight looms 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 JeffriesOn The Money: Breaking down Biden's .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed's handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in 'Biden boom' Democratic leaders push to boost congressional staff pay Troy Carter wins race to fill Cedric Richmond's Louisiana House seat MORE (D-N.Y.), DCCC Chair Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Democrat Cheri Bustos to retire from Congress GOP campaign chief confident his party will win back House MORE (D-Ill.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFree Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech Trump backs Stefanik to replace Cheney Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama 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 ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights 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.