March 26, 2019

Luján ‘seriously’ looking at running for Senate

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Official photo of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján

Ben Ray Luján wants New Mexicans to know he’s seriously contemplating running to replace Tom Udall in the U.S. Senate. Emphasis on “seriously.”

Luján is in his sixth term in the U.S. House, and he’s watched other New Mexico representatives move on to other positions. Martin Heinrich won election to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Both Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham ran for governor in 2018.

Now with Tom Udall leaving the Senate in 2020, Luján may vacate the same seat his predecessor left over a decade ago to once again follow his path to the Senate.

In a phone interview with NM Political Report on Tuesday, Luján used the word “seriously” a number of times when describing his interest in the position.

“After the announcement from Sen. Udall, I was encouraged by all of the outreach I had from people in New Mexico,” Luján said. He said people from around the state—not just his 3rd Congressional District—called to encourage him to run.

One of his first phone calls was with his mother, Carmen.

“My mother’s advice and advocacy was always sought after,” Luján said—not just by him when he decided to run for Public Regulation Commission in 2004 and then for Congress in 2008. She also advised his father, the late Speaker of the House in the New Mexico Legislature, Ben Luján.

He called the conversation “encouraging and meaningful.”

Luján wouldn’t name a deadline for his decision. Instead, he listed a number of legislative priorities, including efforts to address addiction and opioid abuse and building rural broadband infrastructure.

These and other priorities Luján listed happen to be issues that would resonate with voters statewide.

National pundits are also speculating whether Luján will eschew another run for House to run for Senate. An article in Politico declared that Luján “is expected to run for Senate in 2020.”

The Washington D.C.-based political news outlet spoke to fellow Democratic members who encouraged him to run.

There are reasons why Luján might not want to leave the House, however: Since January , he’s been the Assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest position in the chamber. And Luján has goodwill from his House colleagues after running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2016 and 2018 campaign cycles.

Luján mentioned that he “led the effort to win back the House of Representatives with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi” and said it helped “restore checks and balances” in the political progress.

Luján would also be leaving what is a safe-Democratic district, where he hasn’t faced a significant electoral challenger since his first Democratic primary in 2008, for what could be a bruising and expensive Democratic primary followed by a general election.

Tuesday, his colleague, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, said she is “giving the Senate race a lot of thought and consideration.” And there are other possible challengers already, too. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver indicated Monday she’s considering a run. And Attorney General Hector Balderas will make an announcement about the Senate race on Thursday.