Udall announcement brought out politics


April 17, 2019

Tom Udall’s announcement that he won’t seek another term as U.S. senator really brought out the politics in New Mexico.

Already, two Democrats have announced they’ll seek to replace Udall, and there’s plenty of speculation about others interested in vying for the crown jewel of statewide office. Let’s consider only a few.

First to announce was U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who has come a long way in the 10 years he’s been the House. I remember being wholly unimpressed that first time he ran in 2008, when his father, the late New Mexico Speaker of the House Ben Luján, and then-Gov. Bill Richardson muscled him through for his first 3rd District election.

At that time, he struck me as more of a front man for the Democratic machinery than a qualified candidate for the job, but he handily won — and, over the years, became far more refined, a much abler politician.

He’s now assistant speaker, the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, so a promotion to the Senate now appears within his grasp, if he can convince New Mexicans he’s right for the job.

His home base is in north-central New Mexico, where he and his family name are both familiar and respected. Down south, however, he’ll have to visit a lot of small-town coffee shops to become familiar enough to win their votes.

He gets three big breaks in the announcements that Attorney General Hector Balderas and U.S. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small and Deb Haaland won’t run for the Senate seat. Balderas has run before for the Senate (losing to Martin Heinrich in 2012) and would have been a strong contender for Udall’s seat, given his charisma as well as his record as state auditor and AG. Torres Small and Haaland, on the other hand, have just been elected to their first terms in the House and would have faced a backlash if they had abandoned their new seats for a shot at the Senate.

Still, Luján faces a formidable Democratic challenger in Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has also announced a bid for the Senate seat. Her base is in Albuquerque, but she has support around the state too.

As secretary of state, she’s proven herself to be a progressive Democrat, advocating big changes that still haven’t come to fruition — namely, open primaries and ranked choice elections. At this moment in which women are stepping up to run for a plethora of offices, the timing could be right for her, even in Luján’s northern stronghold.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, as of this writing Susana Martinez has not announced anything, but I’ll be a little surprised if she does run. She left office with low approval ratings and, besides, I’m not so sure she even likes politics anymore. But there’s still plenty of time for her to prove me wrong.

As for Steve Pearce, the former 2nd Congressional District representative who now chairs the state GOP, he’s a three-time loser in statewide races, but when did that ever stop anybody? From Abraham Lincoln forward, history is replete with losers who eventually won. We’ll see if he has the fire in his belly for another long-shot candidacy.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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