Luján Appears Poised to Enter New Mexico Senate Race

March 30, 2019 by Dan McCue
Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico is expected to announce a run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 on Monday.

Democratic Representative Ben Ray Luján is “seriously considering” a run for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico, according to a source familiar with the congressman’s plans, and at least one published report says his decision will be announced Monday.

The seat became available on Monday, after Democratic Sen. Tom Udall announced he would not seek re-election to a third term.

Luján, who holds the No. 4 leadership post in the House, is a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and currently has a campaign war chest of about $380,000.

Publicly Luján has maintained that he is consulting with family and supporters about getting into the race.

Immediately after Udall’s announcement, Luján released a statement calling him “a giant in the U.S. Senate” and said Udall’s absence would be felt “in New Mexico, in the Congress, and across our nation.”

In several interviews since then he’s said he’s “seriously” considering the race based largely on the encouragement of people from around his state.

Among those monitoring Lujan’s decision with interest is Jeff Murray, a native of New Mexico and friend of the congressman who is a board member for Center Forward, a group that works to end the culture of gridlock in Washington by bringing together moderate centrist allies to find bipartisan solutions.

Asked whether he was surprised Lujan, a fast-rising member of the Democratic House caucus, was considering giving up a future shot at one of the top spots, Murray said no.

“Remember, moving up the ladder is never a given,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “I think Ben Ray is the most qualified [person] on the Democratic side to run and represents a district that is a great launching pad to secure the nomination.”

On Thursday, one individual considered likely to oppose Lujan for the seat, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, announced he’s decided not to run, citing personal and professional reasons.

Balderas told a New Mexico radio station Thursday morning that he loves being the state’s top prosecutor. He also said he serves as a legal guardian for his 20-year-old daughter and wants to continue advocating for the special needs community.

Others who’ve publicly stated they’re considering vying for the Senate seat are first term U.S. Representative Debra Haaland and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Whoever ultimately makes the race will have a number of issues to tackle on the campaign, not the least of which are economic development and how to diversify the state’s mix of business sectors.

Although tourism has always been important in New Mexico, the local economy is still highly dependent on the oil and gas industries.

Senator Udall announced his decision not to seek re-election in a video posted to YouTube.

Despite feeling certain he could run a strong campaign, the 70-year-old Udall said at this point in his life he preferred to look for new ways to serve the public.

The decision marks an end to a 20-year political career on Capitol Hill for Udall, who first was elected to Congress in 1998, and the closing chapter in a Western political dynasty.

Udall’s father, Stewart Udall, served as Interior Secretary in the 1960s under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In that role, the elder Udall helped write far-reaching conservation legislation.

His uncle was Morris “Mo” Udall, a longtime Arizona congressman, made an almost successful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

In addition, Tom Udall’s cousin, Mark Udall, served one term in the U.S. Senate.

The senator said he’ll dedicate the final two years of his term to fighting climate change, protecting public lands and to trying “to stop the president’s assault on our Democracy and our communities.”

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