Political vacuum opens with 2020 exit of Sen. Tom Udall
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democrat Tom Udall’s surprise announcement that he won’t seek a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2020 had potential successors Tuesday saying they were studying their chances, while some called for more diverse candidates to consider running.
The opening arrives as the Republican Party struggles to find its footing in a state where President Donald Trump lost by 9 percentage points in 2016 and Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham defeated GOP Rep. Steve Pearce in the race for governor last year by 14 percentage points.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Marg Elliston described a youthful and motivated field of Democratic officeholders that are well positioned to run. “We hope anybody who feels they’re equipped for the job steps forward,” Elliston said. “We can have a spirited discussion of ideas.”
Potential Democrats who could contend include Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and second-term Attorney General Hector Balderas, who scheduled an announcement Thursday.
Another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, said in a statement that he was consulting with family and supporters about a race. He holds the No. 4 leadership post in the House, and commands a federal campaign account with $380,000.
University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said she sees opportunities for Republicans to win over conservative Democrats, amid a widespread backlash by county sheriffs and commissioners this year over gun control legislation and public safety policies.
“I think Trump is a real negative for this state,” she said. “But I’m not writing off Republicans yet.”
Republican contractor Mick Rich of Albuquerque said Tuesday that he was considering another run after losing last year to Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in a three-way race in which Libertarian former Gov. Gary Johnson finished last.
Rich said voters are looking for someone who can unite conservative Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans. State GOP officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the pending Senate race.
In 2008, Udall vaulted to the Senate from the same northern New Mexico congressional seat that Lujan holds, succeeding 36-year Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, who retired after being diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease that claimed his life in 2017.
The Washington-based Latino Victory Fund says it will push to elect a Hispanic Democrat.
“With nearly half of the state’s population being Hispanic, it’s crucial that the next U.S. senator from New Mexico be Hispanic,” said senior adviser Adrian Saenz.
The state’s most recent Hispanic senator was Joseph Montoya, who served from 1964 through 1976. No woman or Native American has been elected to the Senate from New Mexico.
Democratic Rep. Debra Haaland of Albuquerque, one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress, said on Twitter that she is giving “a lot of thought” to a race. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small has yet to express interest in the open seat.
This story has been corrected with the proper spelling of Democratic Party Chairwoman Marg Elliston.