SANTA FE – New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn on Monday cited unfinished business and political pragmatism as reasons for his decision to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race, which could pave the way for former Gov. Gary Johnson to take his place on the November ballot.
In making his withdrawal from the race official, Dunn acknowledged the decision likely signals the end of his political career.
“I’m not that good of a politician – I believe in doing what’s right and not trying to get votes,” Dunn said in an interview.
He also cited a need to focus on the final months of his four-year term as land commissioner, which expires at the end of this year. In particular, he said, his goals include completing a land exchange with the Navajo Nation and keeping an eye on disputes over water rights in southeastern New Mexico.
But Dunn also said that Johnson could likely attract more votes than he could in a three-way Senate race that features Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich.
Johnson, a Taos resident, was a Republican when he served as New Mexico’s governor from 1995 through 2002. He later switched his party affiliation to Libertarian and ran for president in 2012 and 2016.
Libertarians have major party status for this year’s state election cycle, largely because Johnson received 9.3 percent of the New Mexico votes in the 2016 general election.
After previously ruling out a future run for elected office, Johnson has recently acknowledged interest in taking Dunn’s place on the general election ballot. He told the Journal last week that he was considering the race but had not made a final decision.
Dunn said Monday that he and other state Libertarian Party leaders approached Johnson about a possible run, after internal polling showed the former governor with more far support among voters than Dunn.
“He would probably do better if there wasn’t a Republican (in the race), but I think he can win either way,” Dunn said of this year’s Senate race.
Heinrich, who is seeking re-election to a second six-year term, has a 20-to-1 fundraising advantage over his closest rival and launched his first television ad for the general election cycle Monday.
The other candidate in the race is Republican Mick Rich, an Albuquerque contractor who is making his first run for elected office.
In a Monday interview, Rich said he’s not daunted by Johnson’s possible entry into the race, predicting the former governor would siphon away more votes away from Heinrich than from him.
“There’s no way in the world I’m backing out of this race,” Rich said.
Meanwhile, Dunn, who changed his party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian earlier this year, has clashed in recent months with both Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration and oil and natural gas operators. In part, the conflict stems from a policy he implemented last year aimed at curbing how much water oil and gas producers can take from a massive aquifer that lies beneath New Mexico’s eastern plains.