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Toulouse Oliver set to enter race for U.S. Senate

April 20, 2019 GMT

Will Democratic primary voters nominate a candidate who could become the first female U.S. senator from New Mexico? Or will they nominate someone who could be the first Hispanic U.S. senator from this state since the 1970s?

These questions came into sharper focus Friday when New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver filed required paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for the U.S. Senate next year.

She could become the second prominent state Democrat — along with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján — vying in next year’s primary to replace retiring Democartic Sen. Tom Udall. Luján declared his candidacy within days of Udall’s announcement last month that he wouldn’ t seek a third term.

On her Facebook campaign page and her Twitter account, Toulouse Oliver, 43, posted a photo of what appears to be the cover sheet of her “statement of organization” for a campaign committee called “Maggie Toulouse Oliver for Senate” along with the message “Big announcement coming soon…. #nmpol #nmsen.”

Her campaign manager, Heather Brewer, confirmed Toulouse Oliver will make an official announcement in the near future. Shortly after Udall’s statement last month, Toulouse Oliver said she would announce her intentions by the end of April.

Luján, a 46-year-old Nambé native, has represented Northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District for 10 years but has never run for a statewide office.

Also seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate is Giovanni Alexander Haquani, who sought an Albuquerque seat in the state Legislature in 2016. He announced this week on his personal Facebook page.

Gavin Clarkson of Las Cruces so far is the only Republican who has formally announced.

In the short time he has been a declared candidate for the Senate, Luján, who in recent months has served as assistant House speaker, was endorsed this week by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which recruits — and helps finance — Democratic Senate candidates. Luján served as chairman of their House counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in past two election cycles.

Brewer said beating someone with such backing within the national Democratic Party won’t be easy. But she expects Toulouse Oliver to get support from people and organizations who want to see a woman represent the state in New Mexico as well as progressives and “real people and real New Mexicans” who “want to see someone who’s not the candidate of the establishment and corporations and the usual suspects.”

New Mexico’s major parties have nominated women for the U.S. Senate before. In 2012, Republicans nominated former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, but she lost to Democrat Martin Heinrich in the general election. In 2002, Democrats nominated former Federal Communications Commission member Gloria Tristani, but she went on to lose in a landslide to Republican incumbent Pete Domenici.

No Hispanic has won a U.S. Senate seat in heavily Hispanic New Mexico for decades. The state’s most recent Hispanic senator was Democrat Joseph Montoya, who was elected to his second term in 1970 but lost his bid for a third term to Republican Harrison Schmitt in 1976.

Tristani, who is the granddaughter of former U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez, D-N.M., was the last Hispanic to receive a major-party nomination for the U.S. Senate in this state.

Toulouse Oliver, an Albuquerque native, began her political career as Bernalillo County clerk after she was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission in 2007 to fill a vacancy. She went on to win election to the job. In 2014, she ran for secretary of state but lost to Republican Dianna Duran.

When Duran pleaded guilty to corruption charges the next year, Toulouse Oliver won the statewide election to fill out Duran’s term.

Toulouse Oliver was elected to a full four-year term last year.