WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who had been considering running for governor in 2018, announced Wednesday that he will forgo a gubernatorial campaign and instead remain in the U.S. Senate.
The two-term senator, 68, said his seniority on key Senate committees is too important to relinquish, especially as Republican President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office in January. Udall’s current Senate term runs for four more years.
“This is not the time to weaken our position in Washington,” Udall said. “President-elect Trump has proposed policies with respect to health care, constitutional rights, immigration, privatizing public lands, and foreign policy that could be devastating to the citizens of New Mexico.”
“My seniority, my reform agenda and my appointments to the Appropriations Committee, the Indian Affairs Committee, the Commerce Committee, and the Foreign Relations Committee are indispensable to the well-being of the state,” Udall said in a Wednesday statement. “New Mexico depends significantly more on federal funding than it does on state revenue.”
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has two years remaining on the four-year term – her second – she was elected to in 2014. Martinez is barred from seeking a third term in 2018, leaving an open field for the state’s top elected office.
In that regard, Udall’s decision could have a domino effect, as other Democrats who are considering gubernatorial bids had been watching to see whether Udall would run before making up their minds.
A spokeswoman and political adviser to Attorney General Hector Balderas said Wednesday that the first-term Democrat, a former state auditor and state representative, was seriously considering a gubernatorial run.
“He’s concerned about the direction of our state,” Balderas adviser Caroline Buerkle told the Journal. “He’ll make a determination in the near future.”
State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, also acknowledged Wednesday that he’s considering running but said he’s focused on the coming 60-day legislative session and will likely not announce a decision until the session is over.
“There can’t be any question our state is on the wrong track,” said Cervantes, who praised Udall’s decision to remain in Congress and advocate for New Mexico’s interests.
Another possible candidate, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., who was re-elected to New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District last month, told the Journal in November that she was seriously considering a run, even if Udall decided to get into the gubernatorial race. Asked about Udall’s announcement Wednesday, she sidestepped mention of her own political plans.
“Sen. Udall has always put New Mexico first, and I have no doubt he will continue to do that as our senior senator,” Lujan Grisham said. “I look forward to working with him and presenting a united front on behalf of New Mexico’s working families.”
Republicans who are considered possible gubernatorial candidates include Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who is not seeking re-election next year.
“Tom Udall’s decision to not run for governor will open up the field of candidates, especially on the Democratic side,” said longtime New Mexico political observer Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. “Some prospective candidates were waiting on the sidelines to see whether or not he was going to leave the U.S. Senate and cap off his political career back home.”
In announcing his decision, Udall said “many New Mexicans” had urged him to run for governor.
He also said that he believed he had the necessary backing and experience to address pressing state issues – including education, jobs and renewable energy – as governor, but ultimately determined the state would be better-served by his remaining in the U.S. Senate.
“When I was elected to the Senate, I committed to standing up in Washington for New Mexico families to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get ahead and their needs never take a back seat to wealthy special interests,” he added. “I believe that pledge is even more important now.”