Earlier this week, New Mexico’s senior Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who was first elected in 2008, announced he would not seek reelection in 2020. Udall’s announcement has set off a flurry of speculation about who may run and who the frontrunners may be. In the wake of the third Senate retirement announcement this year, AR Intel has compiled the things you need to know about the newest open seat race.
New Mexico’s Political Landscape
At the federal level, New Mexico has been reliably Democratic the last several cycles. The state has 3 Representatives in the U.S. House, all of whom are Democrats (Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the 2nd District, was elected in a Republican-leaning district last year). New Mexico has also had two Democrats represent it in the U.S. Senate since 2008 – former Sen. Pete Domenici was the last Republican senator from the state, serving from 1972 until he retired in 2008. Democratic presidential candidates have also had success in New Mexico. In the seven presidential contests since 1992, a Republican candidate has only won the state once (Pres. George W. Bush edged out John Kerry in 2004 by about 0.8 points). In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the state by 8 points and Pres. Barack Obama won by 15 points and 10 points in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
At the state level, however, the politics is a bit more purple. Republican Susana Martinez served as governor of New Mexico for two terms from 2011 through 2018. As recently as 2016, the state legislature was split, with Republicans controlling the state House and Democrats controlling the state Senate. Although the state is currently controlled by Democrats, there is certainly opportunity here for Republicans. As FiveThirtyEight noted, “New Mexico is not so blue as to be out of reach under the right circumstances and with the right candidate, so the GOP would be foolish to give up on the seat.”
Possible Democratic Candidates
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is expected to officially announce his candidacy next week. The former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Lujan would be a strong candidate in the race. His fundraising connections to top Democratic donors via his DCCC role should give him a leg up on the competition. However, the field is expected to grow.
As Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzalez notes, State Attorney General Hector Balderas looks poised to enter the race, and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. Baldaras ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012, losing the Democratic primary to then-Rep. Martin Heinrich , who went on to win the seat in the general election. Oliver, who was first elected statewide in 2016, has raised her profile by pushing an ambitious package of voting rights measures during the current legislative session.
There’s also freshman Rep. Deb Haaland, who has been labeled as a “wildcard” candidate. Although she has only been a member of Congress for three months, Haaland has left the door open for a Senate bid, tweeting that she was “giving the Senate race a lot of thought and consideration.” Freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who flipped a Republican-held seat in 2018, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. Torres Small declined to comment when asked if she was considering a run, however.
Possible Republican Candidates
Recent reports say that Republican Mick Rich, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico last year, is weighing a second Senate bid. Rich lost to incumbent Heinrich in 2018 by about 24 percentage points.
Former Rep. Steve Pearce has also been floated as a possible candidate. Now chairman of the state Republican Party, Pearce did not rule out running for the seat. Although Pearce has never won statewide office, he would be a familiar face having consistently won the state’s southern congressional district. He would also be able to self-fund a bid, having made a fortune in the oil field services business.
The Santa Fe New Mexican mentioned former Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez as a possible candidate. Sanchez served alongside former Governor Susana Martinez, who has also been listed as a possible candidate. Martinez left office with poor approval ratings and has been quiet about her next steps. Her allies launched an ad campaign as she left office last year in what seemed to be an effort to boost her profile and set the stage for a comeback. However, Martinez told reporters in 2017 that she wouldn’t want to run for Senate.
Other names floated as possible candidates include state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, former Albuquerque Mayor Rich Berry, and former attorney general nominee Michael Hendricks.