Rep. Luján enters U.S. Senate race

By Andrew Oxford
aoxford@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 4/1/19

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is running for Senate. The Democratic congressman from Nambé said in a video posted online Monday morning that he will seek Tom Udall’s seat next …

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Rep. Luján enters U.S. Senate race

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U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is running for Senate.

The Democratic congressman from Nambé said in a video posted online Monday morning that he will seek Tom Udall’s seat next year.

Udall announced last week he would not campaign for a third term in 2020 and Luján quickly emerged as one of the potential Democratic nominees to succeed him.

But running for Senate will also mean forgoing another term as assistant speaker of the House of Representatives, a leadership post Luján just assumed this year.

Luján nodded Monday to the new Democratic majority in the House.

But referring to the Republican majority in the Senate and its Republican leader, he added: “To move forward, we’ve got to fix the Senate where Mitch McConnell stands in the way of progress.”

While a logical next step for Luján, who won Udall’s former congressional seat about a decade ago and has enjoyed a steady rise through the ranks of Democratic leadership, this campaign will also be his first test on a statewide ballot.

And several other Democrats have said they are considering running for Senate, too, from U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and former CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Indeed, Luján could be vulnerable to a challenge from his left. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he helped the party win back a majority in the House but also rankled plenty on the Democrats’ left flank, who have come to see the party’s leadership in Congress as out of touch with its base and their vaunted rising stars.

The Progressive Change Campaign, a Democratic group, surveyed its members in New Mexico last week and found 39 percent would support Luján and 32 percent would back Haaland. Another 15 percent would support Toulouse Oliver and 14 percent said they had no preference.

In the survey, members alternately described Luján as best positioned for the race, given his prominence, and as too far to the middle or right, praising Haaland as more progressive.

The big question now may be whether Luján’s entrance into the race keeps away competitors or invites just such an opponent to come forward from the left.

Meanwhile, Udall’s plans for an exit could embolden Republicans. Though many observers still view the race as at least leaning towards the Democrats and it is unclear who might run for the Republican nomination, the GOP may have an easier time running for an open seat instead of challenging an incumbent.

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