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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE — One high-profile potential candidate for New Mexico’s open 2020 U.S. Senate race announced Thursday that he’s passing on a run, while another could be inching closer to launching a campaign.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, acknowledged being tempted to run for the seat being vacated by outgoing U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, but he said the timing was not right for him.
“Quite frankly, we could not survive the travel schedule of a U.S. senator right now,” said Balderas, who along with his wife recently became the legal guardian of his 20-year old daughter, Arianna, who has Down syndrome.
Balderas’ decision not to run, which he announced on an Albuquerque-area radio station, could pave the way for other prominent Democrats to enter the race for the seat currently held by Udall, who announced this week that he would not seek re-election in 2020.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., has acknowledged interest in running for the seat, although he would have to give up his current seat in the U.S. House to do so.
“I can tell you I’m seriously thinking about running,” Luján told the Journal in a recent interview. “I’ve been encouraged by people throughout New Mexico to run. I’ve received several calls and text messages.”
Luján said it was “important for people in New Mexico to find someone as reliable as Sen. Udall to represent them in the Senate.”
He didn’t set a timeline for a decision but said, “It’s important to let the people of New Mexico know sooner rather than later.”
Other candidates who have left the door open for a run include Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and first-term U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who tweeted this week that she was giving a potential campaign a lot of “thought and consideration.”
On the Republican side, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce has not ruled out a run, and Albuquerque contractor Mick Rich, who ran for the U.S. Senate last year, has also expressed interest.
“Liberal progressives represent the entire New Mexico congressional delegation,” Rich said. “Now more than ever, hardworking New Mexicans need a voice in Washington, D.C.”
As for the Democratic field, Balderas probably would have been a top-tier candidate in the U.S. Senate race, given his profile as the state’s top prosecutor, several lawsuits he has signed onto targeting the policies of President Donald Trump and the hefty campaign war chest he has accumulated over recent years.
He was elected attorney general in 2014 and has filed public corruption charges against several elected officials, including ex-Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, and former Democratic state senator Phil Griego.
Balderas easily defeated two general election opponents to win re-election last November. He previously served two terms as state auditor after two years representing a rural northern New Mexico district in the state House.
He said in an interview after his Thursday announcement that he recently spoke with Luján, but added that personal factors played the largest role in his decision-making.
“I believe we have a strong candidate in Ben Ray Luján — and there could be others,” Balderas said. “We have a lot of respect for each other, but we’ve always been aware our paths might cross in a competitive primary.”
Meanwhile, Luján thanked Balderas for his “service and commitment” to New Mexico on Twitter after the attorney general’s announcement.
Balderas ran once before for U.S. Senate, in 2012. But he lost that year’s primary election to then-U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich in a collegial race that featured no negative campaigning by either candidate. Heinrich won the general election that year and was re-elected last year.
Balderas said Thursday that he does not know yet what he’ll do next after his current term as attorney general expires at the end of 2022. But he pointed out that he’s still younger — at age 45 — than New Mexico’s last two governors were when they took office.
“Voters have positioned me to take my time,” Balderas said.
New Mexico has not had a Hispanic U.S. senator since 1976, when Joseph Montoya was defeated after holding the position for 12-plus years.