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Democratic Primary Simmering in New Mexico: Candidates Waste No Time Lining Up to Succeed Udall

By Jim Ellis

March 29, 2019 — Sen. Tom Udall (D) surprised the political world on Monday when he released a video announcing that the will retire when this session of Congress adjourns instead of running for a third term. Though he appeared to be a lock for re-election, the 70-year-old senator said it was time for him to look for other political avenues from which to contribute.

Potential Democratic successors are wasting no time. Later today, state Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) is releasing a video message that will presumably contain his Senate announcement. He may soon have company from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-Nambe/Santa Fe).

Balderas is no stranger to statewide office in the Land of Enchantment. After winning a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2004, the freshman legislator was elected state Auditor in 2006. He then ran for an open Senate seat in 2008, but decisively lost the Democratic primary to now-incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich (D). He was re-elected Auditor in 2010, and then ran for, and won, the attorney general’s post in 2014. Balderas was re-elected in November with 62 percent of the vote.

Though he ran for re-election last year, it was originally thought that Balderas would challenge Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-Albuquerque) for the open gubernatorial nomination. But, Grisham opened with a large lead, took advantage of her strong inside connections, and Banderas, knowing he could not afford to lose another statewide race, decided to stay put. Therefore, instead of running for governor, he made a major public production of supporting Grisham and unifying the party for the gubernatorial push. That move may well pay-off for him in this open Senate election.

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