Now that United States Senator Tom Udall has decided to retire, the New Mexico political scene has any number highly ambitious elected Democratic officials that will being eyeing to run to replace him.
For a brief history of Tom Udall’s service to New Mexico see the below postscript:
Following is a list of potential candidates where there is a good chance, they are thinking about running and would have a reasonable shot to organize a statewide race and raise the millions to run.
The list is by no means intended to be exhaustive and no doubt there are many others out there, but for now here is the initial list of potential candidates:
POTENTIAL DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES
CONGRESSMAN BEN RAY LUJAN: Luján has served as the U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district since 2009, and became the Assistant House Speaker since 2019, appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He was elected to be Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2014, and led the Democrats to win a majority in the US House in the 2018 elections. Luján previously served as a member of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission from 2005 to 2008. Lujan is extremely well liked within the Democratic party and no doubt would be able to run a state-wide campaign and raise the necessary money to run. All congressman usually have ambitions to become United States Senators, unless you rise to the top in a leadership position such as Lujan has done. Congressmen have to run every two years while a Senate seat is far more powerful and is for a six-year term. Lujan is no fan of Trump, and his vote in the Senate may be needed if there is ever an impeachment trial in the Senate. If Congressman Ben Ray Lujan does run, he will likely win.
SECRETARY OF STATE MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Toulouse Oliver has always been considered an up and comer within the Democratic Party. First elected in 2016, Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver has focused on providing increased transparency in financial disclosure and campaign finance reporting, modernizing the online campaign finance system, encouraging New Mexicans to get registered and vote, and advocating for good government and stronger ethics legislation. A lifelong New Mexico resident, Toulouse Oliver previously served as Bernalillo County Clerk from 2007 to 2016. She attended Albuquerque Public Schools and earned both her BA and MA in Political Science from the University of New Mexico. Currently living in Santa Fe, the Secretary of State is the proud mother of two sons. The chances are she may be the only woman running for Senate and for that reason alone, she would be a top tier candidate given the wave of woman who are being elected to congress. She would be the first female elected to the United State Senate from New Mexico.
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE BRIAN EGOLF: Sources is Santa Fe have said that Egolf has talked more than once about running for the US Senate if Udall decided not to run. Egolf was considered a potential congressional candidate in the 2014 election. Speaker Egolf was elected Speaker of the House by acclamation and just completed one of the most productive sessions in state history and he has the right to be proud. Among his legislative successes, Speaker Egolf championed equal pay for equal work for the women of New Mexico, reduced government corruption through the creation of a statewide independent ethics commission, and passed legislation to penalize the distribution of sensitive images, such as child pornography. As a private practice attorney, Egolf filed suit in New Mexico district court on behalf of a gay couple that was denied a marriage license. The case helped turn the tide toward marriage equality in New Mexico and just a few months later, the state’s Supreme court ruled to legalize gay marriage, making New Mexico the 17th state to do so. Egolf has the progressive record and would have the ability to raise money, but the ability to organize a state-wide race would remain to be seen.
LT. GOVERNOR HOWIE MORALES: Morales is the 30th lieutenant governor of New Mexico, since January 1, 2019. He would not have to resign as Lt. Governor to run for Senate. Morales previously served as a member of the New Mexico Senate, representing the 28th District which includes Catron, Grant, and Socorro counties from 2008 to 2019. On January 9, 2008, Governor Bill Richardson appointed Morales to the Senate as the result of the death of New Mexico State Senator Ben D. Altamirano who died of a heart attack. In October 2013, Morales officially announced he would run for the office of Governor of New Mexico and in June, 2014 he lost the primary to state Attorney General Gary King. During his 11-year career in the New Mexico Senate, Morales held seats on the Legislative Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, both dealing with state budget matters. He sponsored bills addressing public education, environment and universal health care. Having run two state wide races, Morales would be able to put together a viable campaign for the United States Senate, but fund raising may be problematic for him.
BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY RAUL TORREZ: Torrez is in his third year as Bernalillo County District Attorney and he will have to run for reelection in 2020 or he can run for US Seante. Torrez has had very mixed reviews from the New Mexico bar because of his severe criticism of Judges blaming them at one time for our high crime rates. Notwithstanding, Torrez is perceived by the public as doing a very good job and likely will get elected again in 2020 if he runs because of the extensive media coverage he gets. Torrez’s chances for reelection could all change overnight with the handling of high-profile cases such as the prosecution of the 9-year-old Victoria Martens Case, the child who was murdered and dismembered. Torrez may conclude that it may be easier to run a statewide race for United States Senate and not deal with the volatility of the District Attorney’s office and career ending cases. Two years ago, Torrez raised and spent $500,000 to run for District Attorney, which also included over $100,000 from George Soros.
BUSINESSMAN JEFF APODACA: Jeff Apodaca, son of a former New Mexico Governor Jerry Apodaca, is an Albuquerque businessman who ran for Governor in 2018. He secured 22% of the vote in the primary, which may reflect a base of support in a crowded US Senate field, possibly enough to win the nomination. Apodaca now works for New Mexico Democrats for Democracy, a political action committee that backed Apodaca for governor. Apodaca is a graduate of Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the University of New Mexico (UNM), where he graduated in 1986 with a B.A. in broadcast management. Apodaca has an impressive business resume with a 30-year career in media. After graduating from college, Apodaca joined CBS, eventually becoming a senior executive for the network’s Entertainment, Sports, and Olympics Division. Apodaca’s work includes two years at America Online, eight years as a Vice President at Univision, and 6 years at Entravision Communications. A major obstacle Apodaca will have is to overcome is the fact he was not gracious enough in defeat to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham who he criticized after the primary.
LAS CRUCES STATE SENATOR JOE CERVANTES: Democrat State Senator Cervantes is a highly respected trial attorney and capable legislator who ran for Governor last year, but came in third securing only 11% in the Democratic primary. Cervantes was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cervantes graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1979, and the University of New Mexico with a bachelor of arts in architecture in 1983. In 1985, Cervantes received a Master of Architecture degree from California Polytechnic State University. He was licensed as an architect by the State of California in 1987 and became an associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1991 Cervantes received a J.D. degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law and has always been in the private practice of law. What would make Cervantes a viable candidate is his wealth and the fact he just ran a statewide race. Senator Cervantes was reported to have spent $2 Million of his own money to run for Governor. Cervantes has also considered running for congress in the past and may decide his opportunity is now.
STATE AUDITOR BRIAN COLON: Colón is of Puerto Rican descent. He was born in New York City and came to Valencia County, New Mexico as a small child. Colon was the first in his family to attend college and graduated from New Mexico State University in 1998 and he then immediately entered the University of New Mexico School of Law and graduated in 2001. Colon is a former Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. In 2010, he ran for and lost his bid for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico. In 2017, he ran for Mayor of Albuquerque and raised close to $1 million to run. He has chaired Pope Joy Hall’s Board of Directors and has served with the Board of Trustees for the Albuquerque Community Foundation. On November 6, 2018, he defeated Republican Wayne Johnson in the general election to become New Mexico State Auditor. Brian Colon and Attorney General Hector Balderas are very close. If Balderas were to run for Senate, it is not likely that Colon would run. Notwithstanding, Colon is the consummate politician, enjoys running for office, has now run a statewide race and won and has the ability to raise large sums of money.
CONGRESSWOMAN DEBRA HAALAND: In 2018, Haaland was elected to her first term to Congress winning the nomination in June 2018, receiving 40.5% of the vote and winning every county in the district and winning the general election receiving 59.1% of the vote and winning three of the district’s five counties. She is the first native American ever elected in New Mexico to serve in the United States Congress and one of only 2 native Americans ever elected to the Congress. Haaland served as the state’s vote director for Native Americans in Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential reelection campaign. She was elected to a two-year term as the Chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico in April 2015. During her tenure, New Mexico Democrats regained control of the New Mexico House of Representatives. She ran for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico in 2014. Her ticket, headed by then Attorney General of New Mexico Gary King, the party’s nominee for Governor of New Mexico, lost to the Republican ticket of incumbent Republican Governor “She-Who-Must Not-Be-Name and Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez. Although Debra Haaland was just elected to congress, she may think the timing may just be right to become the first Native American female to ever be elected to the United States Senate.
ALBUQUERQUE MAYOR TIM KELLER: Mayor Keller released a statement he will not be a candidate to replace Udall. Notwithstanding, Keller has successfully completed his first year as Albuquerque Mayor, he has done a respectful job but he has expressed more than once a desire to run for higher office and more than one source has said he has national ambitions. Keller has high positive name identity and strong support within the progressive wing of the Democratic party who got him elected Mayor. If he changes his mind and runs, he would be considered a top tier candidate.
ATTORNEY GENERAL HECTOR BALDERAS: On March 28, 2019, Attorney General Hector Balderas announced that he will not be a candidate for the the United Sates Senate and will not run for the congressional seat of Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. Balderas was just elected to a second term as Attorney General and served two terms before as State Auditor for 8 full years and was a NM State Representative from Wagon Mound. Balderas ran against Senator Martin Heinrich 6 years ago and he still probably has aspirations to be a US Senator from New Mexico. Balderas announced he intends to finish his term as Attorney General which ends January 1, 2022.
POTENTIAL REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES
FORMER REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR “SHE-WHO-SHALL-NOT BE NAMED”: She was elected twice as the first Hispanic Female Governor succeeding Governor Bill Richardson. After 8 years, she left office with a 35% approval rating. During local TV exit interviews, she said “retiring was not an option” and like a moth to a flame she may decide to run having been offered nothing in the Donald Trump Administration.
FORMER Lt. GOVERNOR JOHN SANCHEZ: Since leaving office as Lt. Governor, John Sanchez has been a candidate looking for a new job. He talked about running for United States Senate before but soon realized his ties to former Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named” was probably an obstacle too hard to overcome. Notwithstanding, Sanchez is still popular within the Republican party and would be a front runner for the Republican nomination, which may not be worth much in an increasingly blue state and he will be saddled with defending Trump when he runs.
STEVE PEARCE: Do not be surprised if former United States Congressman Steve Pearce jumps into the race for one last time. He has yet to run well state wide having run and lost to Tom Udall for Senate and ran and lost for Governor in 2018 to Michelle Lujan Grisham. He is now Chairman of the Republican Party, and there is still talk he may run again for his old congressional seat.
Other potential Republican candidates mulling the race are former Republican Roswell State Senator Rod Adair, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura and former Republican State Senator and City Councilor Janice Arnold Jones who ran for congress in 2018.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
All too often elected officials do not recognize they have overstayed their welcome and instead of moving on they lose an election trying to hold on for any number of years because they are intoxicated with the power they have had for so many years and cannot give it up.
Former United States Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman both knew when it was time to move on and retired.
Both US Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici after decades of service retired at the height of their game and you can now include Tom Udall.
Despite Udall’s statement last year that he would probably run again, no one should be really surprised that he is not.
Udall’s favorable rating has taken a hit in the last few years, is below 50%, and incumbency is still an advantage but no longer a sure thing.
Gone are the days where long serving Senators are elected by landslides.
At 70, after 40 years of public service, and given the national political conflicts in the age of Trump, Udall knows its time to move on.
The fact that the Mueller Investigation found no collusion by Trump with Russia to hand him the election probably means Trump will not be impeached and removed from office, so why should Udall stick around.
If one or more of the potential candidates listed holding office now do decide to run and are elected to the United States Senate it will result in a domino effect with people trying to replace them.
There is no doubt that Democrats will have a large field of candidates to choose from and it is more likely than not whoever is nominated will become the junior Senator of New Mexico.
The Republicans on the other hand will scramble to find a good candidate.
Heather Wilson was recently appointed President of University of Texas at El Paso, and the rumor is she is measuring for new drapes in a house just over the New Mexico border to run for the Senate a third time in case Steve Pearce tries to recruit her to run if he decides not to do so himself.
Get a hold of your odds maker, place your bets and stay tuned New Mexico!
Now that United States Senator Tom Udall has announced that he will not be seeking a third term as United States Senator for New Mexico, his service to New Mexico should be noted.
Senator Tom Udall is now 70 and has been around New Mexico politics for close to 40 years.
Udall was born in Tucson, Arizona, is the son of former Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall and he came to New Mexico to attend UNM law school.
Udall started his career in the United States Attorney’ Office for the District of New Mexico as an Assistant United States Attorney.
In 1982, Udall ran for Congress in the newly created 3rd district, based in Santa Fe, and most of north of the state and lost the Democratic primary to Bill Richardson.
In 1988, Udall ran for Congress again, this time in an election for the Albuquerque-based 1st district seat left open by retiring twenty-year incumbent Manuel Lujan, but lost to Bernalillo County District Attorney Steven Schiff.
In 1990 Udall ran for Attorney General of New Mexico, and served two full 4 years terms.
Udall ran for Congress again in 1998 in the 3rd district against conservative Republican incumbent Bill Redmond, who had been elected in a 1997 special election to replace Richardson and Udall defeated Redmond with 53% of the vote.
Udall was elected four more terms to congress with no substantive opposition including running unopposed in 2002.
In November 2007, then Congressman Tom Udall announced he would run for the Senate seat held by retiring six-term incumbent Republican Pete Domenici.
New Mexico’s other two members of the House, 1st and 2nd district’s Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, ran in the Republican primary.
Pearce won the Republican nomination, and lost to Udall, who won 61% of the vote.
Senator Udall won election to a second term to the Senate in 2014 and has now served in the US Senate for 10 years.
Less than two years ago, Udall was saying he wanted to return to New Mexico and run for New Mexico Governor, decided against it, and Michelle Lujan Grisham then announced for Governor.
On July 25, 2018, it was reported Senator Tom Udall had a 46% approval rating, a 30% disapproval rating, with 23% undecided.
You can review the poll at this link:
Notwithstanding the poll, Udall was a heavy favorite for re election.
Thank you for your years of service to New Mexico Senator Tom Udall.