For a man on the run, Joe Biden has time to fuel endless speculation in New Mexico and a half-dozen other states.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has done this by saying almost nothing about who’s in contention to be his running mate.
Other than affirming his promise to choose a woman, and to reveal his pick as soon as this week, Biden hasn’t said anything publicly about his preference.
His press aides have been just as consistent. They have ignored all my questions about whether Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is under consideration.
Cable television networks and a few publications offer ever-changing conjecture about who’s on Biden’s shortlist for vice president. They often claim Lujan Grisham is one of the people he is considering, though these stories are as thin as a trial balloon.
Govs. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan also turn up in guesswork accounts pitched by one outlet or another.
My bet is Biden won’t choose Lujan Grisham or any other governor. He would have good reasons to avoid them, both practical and political.
Governors of both parties are unpopular this year. They face a daily chorus of taunts for being too harsh or too lax in their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many in New Mexico say Lujan Grisham is inflexible and unfair in deciding which businesses can operate at full capacity in a time of spreading disease. Her most outspoken critics tend to be part of the three Rs — restaurateurs, retailers and Republicans. They make a lot of noise.
Then there’s the issue of betrayal. If Lujan Grisham left her state to campaign full time for vice president, the hissing back home would intensify. Her emboldened critics would claim she injured New Mexico, then abandoned it.
Biden can avoid all this sort of trouble by choosing a member of Congress or Susan Rice, who was a diplomat and national security adviser in President Barack Obama’s administration.
Lack of strength in presidential battlegrounds is another reason Lujan Grisham looks like a long shot to join Biden’s ticket. She probably couldn’t help him in any swing state except Arizona.
None of this cools speculation about her chances. Until Biden himself says otherwise, many in New Mexico want to believe former Congresswoman Lujan Grisham is returning to Washington, either as his vice president or as Cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
This is where imaginations really run wild. If Lujan Grisham is upwardly mobile, a mad scramble would occur for residency in the governor’s mansion.
Lujan Grisham’s immediate successor would be Lt. Gov. Howie Morales of Silver City. He has the punching power of a middleweight. Morales had difficulty raising money when he ran for governor in 2014, finishing fourth in a five-way Democratic primary.
Anyone with even a regional base of supporters sees Morales as beatable.
Rep. Brian Egolf, speaker of the state House of Representatives, is too ambitious to discount as a contender for governor. Egolf, 43, of Santa Fe, rocketed to the speaker’s chair after only eight years as a legislator.
He rebuilt the Democrats’ legislative ranks after Republicans won control of the House in 2014. It marked the first time in 62 years the Republicans were in charge, and Egolf worked hard to make their reign brief.
The risk for Egolf would be relinquishing the speaker’s job to run in a difficult statewide race. A loss and Egolf would be, in the words of the late labor boss Jimmy Hoffa, just another lawyer.
Many more Democrats covet the governor’s job.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is even more ambitious than Egolf. Keller previously won a race for state auditor, so he is also better-known across New Mexico.
But mayors alienate voters by failing to make sure parks are clean and potholes are filled. Running a city, even the biggest one in the state, looks like a political dead end.
Jeff Apodaca, son of a former governor, ran for the state’s top office in 2018. He brought nothing to the race but an outlandish promise.
Apodaca said he would create 225,000 jobs by somehow taking a portion of the state’s largest endowment to jump-start the economy. He is self-absorbed enough to run again.
State Sen. Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces also ran for governor in 2018. He lost his home county, Doña Ana, to Lujan Grisham in the primary, and he received far fewer votes statewide than Apodaca. Cervantes, though, might be tempted to give it another go to atone for his weak performance.
At least two Democratic women could be factors in a governor’s race without Lujan Grisham.
State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard won election in 2018, and she embarrassed one of the state’s top politicians in the process. Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich campaigned for one of Garcia Richard’s primary opponents.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of Albuquerque has become a national figure in only two years, largely based on her Native heritage and her interest in tribal issues.
The downside for Haaland is risking a safe seat to gamble in a statewide race.
Republicans were anemic in the ’18 governor’s race. If Lujan Grisham were out of office, they might awaken.
Former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti is almost certain to lose the U.S. Senate race this year. His positions shift with a stiff breeze. If Ronchetti opted for straight talk, he might be the Republicans’ best hope in the ’22 governor’s race.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, also could be gubernatorial timber. He probably would be a better fit in Southern New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, but that seat would not be available if Republicans win it back this year. Even Senate Democrats who always disagree with Pirtle find him an engaging personality.
Without Lujan Grisham, the governor’s race would resemble one of those old roller derby exhibitions — a pack with sharp elbows jabbing for any advantage.
Biden will have a running mate this month. His choice could have a good chance to become the first woman president.
Lujan Grisham will still have a state to run. The honor brings with it two more years to quiet the boo birds.