President Donald Trump is headed to New Mexico later this month. The Republican president will make his first appearance in the state as president. He will travel to Rio Rancho, a conservative suburb of Albuquerque, and hold a campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center, a 6,000-seat arena that holds 7,500 for concerts according to his campaign website. The rally comes over a year before the general election and nine months ahead of New Mexico’s primaries, which come late in the campaign cycle. Trump is facing two primary opponents, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Congressman Joe Walsh, but is likely to win the primary with overwhelming numbers.
New Mexico’s primary elections are still more than eight months away, but that hasn’t slowed down candidates for U.S. Senate. Both the Republican and Democratic primaries have multiple candidates already, but arguably the Democratic race is the closest watched so far.
Democrats will choose between U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is walking away from the high ranking position in U.S. House leadership of Assistant Speaker of the House to run, or Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Secretary of State. Luján has a financial advantage so far and secured endorsements from U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But Toulouse Oliver said she believes New Mexicans care less about what friends in high places think.
“We have our own local leaders that we look to and we’re very independent-minded,” Toulouse Oliver said. “While I respect those decisions and respect Congressman Luján for getting that support for himself, I don’t think that it’s going to be even a remotely deciding factor at the end of the day.”
Pushing the envelope vs. mainstream
Toulouse Oliver didn’t grow up with a high-ranking state legislator as a parent and doesn’t have the institutional knowledge of Congress — two things Luján can boast.
Note: This is an edition of the NM Political Report Elections Roundup, which comes out twice a month on Tuesdays (and will increase to ever week when elections near) as an email newsletter. Sign up to get the newsletter here. Quick hits
This week, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced he supports impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. See my story on it.U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland announced her support last week.Speaking of Haaland, after endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president, she has been a fairly active surrogate on behalf of the Massachusetts U.S. Senator, especially on Native issues.Andy wrote about how political parties can’t hold raffle fundraisers according to a state agency.It’s not officially a campaign event, but VP Mike Pence will be in Artesia this week.Any links you think I should include in the next edition? Email matthew [at] nmpoliticalreport [dot] com.
On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.
Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
New Mexico commercial contractor Mick Rich is taking a second run for Senate. Rich told NM Political Report early Friday morning that he was running again in 2020.
Rich said he has “learned a lot” since his last attempt to represent New Mexico in Washington D.C. Rich’s Senate campaign in 2018, when he lost to Martin Heinrich, was his first attempt at elected office. “As we approach the 2020 election cycle, we have acted on that learning,” Rich said. “Rather than rush to announce for an open seat, we have recruited a top-notch campaign team and have begun to contact major donors.”
The Senate seat is open because Sen. Tom Udall opted not to run for a third term. Udall’s announcement earlier this year set off speculation on who would run to replace the longtime elected officeholder.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján continues to lead the money race in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The six-term congressman has over $1.1 million more money in his campaign account than his primary opponent, while outed CIA spy Valerie Plame narrowly led the fundraising in the latest quarter for the 3rd Congressional District race. At the same time, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small continued her impressive fundraising and now has over $1 million in her campaign account. Campaign finance reports for the 2nd quarter, which runs from April 1 to June 30, were due for federal candidates on Monday. While elections are not until next year, candidates will use campaign funds to hire staff and buy other campaign necessities.
Even as Donald Trump’s campaign says it may target New Mexico in 2020, his approval in the state remains very low. That’s according to the latest polling from Morning Consult, which releases the presidential approval ratings at the state level each month. This month, Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at just 41 percent, while 56 percent disapprove of his job performance. Trump’s approval rating in New Mexico was 52 percent at the beginning of 2017 and peaked at 59 percent in April of 2017. But his approval rating has been lower than his disapproval rating in every poll since June of 2017.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Wednesday she is running for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat has already won statewide races for Secretary of State twice and if she wins in 2020 would become the first woman to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate in the state’s history. In a slickly-produced video, Toulouse Oliver emphasized her personal history, including attending college as a single mother and graduating with “a pile of student debt.” She says that as Secretary of State she “took on the Koch brothers and won,” on campaign finance reform. She also said that she supports Medicare-for-all and supports “a Washington that doesn’t separate families at the border.”
In a separate statement announcing her run, Toulouse Oliver also says she supports the Green New Deal. “We need more women in Washington,” Toulouse Oliver said.
A former Trump administration official announced Tuesday that he is running for the open U.S. Senate seat. Republican Gavin Clarkson announced he will run for the seat to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, the Democrat who said earlier this year that he would not seek a third term in the Senate. He is the first Republican to announce his candidacy. “I’m running to share the stories and aspirations of the ordinary people who make New Mexico extraordinary and who just want to see some sympathy in the Senate, and that will mean being in-state as often as possible, so I’m promising to visit every one of our state’s 33 counties at least once a year,” Clarkson said in a statement. He also mentioned his personal story, saying he lost “almost everything” in the 2008 financial crisis then moved to New Mexico “with one cent in my bank account” and started flipping houses—buying houses, fixing them up and selling them at a higher price.
Just about two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced that he would not run for re-election. Nearly as soon as he announced his decision, a chain reaction began. Speculation on who would replace him—and who would run to fill the spots of those eyeing Udall’s seat. Note: This story was sent out Tuesday as part of the NM Political Report Elections Roundup. Sign up for the free email.