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Attorney General Balderas decides against run for governor

SANTA FE – New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas ended months of speculation Tuesday by announcing he will not run for governor next year and, instead, will seek re-election to a second term as the state’s top attorney.

Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Balderas, a Democrat who is a former state auditor and legislator, suggested he could have a significant impact by staying in his current job for another four years.

“It’s been an honor to serve New Mexico and I plan on running for re-election next year in order to continue to fight for our state,” Balderas said.

As attorney general, Balderas has joined a challenge against Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from certain countries and is part of a lawsuit over the environmental impact of new coal leases.

By not running for governor, Balderas will also avoid a potentially expensive and hard-fought race for the Democratic Party nomination.

Three other Democrats have already formally entered the 2018 race: U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, media executive Jeff Apodaca and political outsider Peter DeBenedittis of Santa Fe.

The state’s current chief executive, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term as governor, and no GOP candidate has launched campaigns to succeed her yet. A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a potential Republican heavyweight, said Tuesday he is taking time to decide whether to enter the gubernatorial contest after recently traveling through 11 northern New Mexico counties.

While Balderas would have been among the top tier of gubernatorial candidates due to his name recognition and ability to raise campaign funds, he will likely be favored to win re-election as attorney general next year.

Balderas, 43, last month reported having more than $687,000 in his campaign account. He would have been able to use that money in a gubernatorial run but can also tap into it for his re-election bid.

The Republican Governors Association in a Tuesday news release said Balderas had decided to “play it safe” by not running for governor, describing it as a discouraging sign for Democratic recruitment efforts.

But longtime New Mexico political analyst Brian Sanderoff called Balderas’ decision politically savvy.

“I think this is good news for Michelle Lujan Grisham and other prospective candidates in the Democratic primary, because Hector Balderas would have been a formidable candidate,” Sanderoff said. “He’s a relatively young man who has a bright future in New Mexico politics.”

A native of Wagon Mound, Balderas became the youngest Hispanic statewide elected official in the nation in 2006, when we was elected state auditor. He also sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012 but was defeated by Martin Heinrich in a race in which both candidates refrained from negative attacks.

Since winning election as attorney general in 2014, Balderas has pursued high-profile public corruption cases against several elected officials, including former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, and former Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego of San Jose.