U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Wednesday his bid for election to the U.S. Senate in 2020 is endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as by one of his colleagues in New Mexico’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of Albuquerque.
Since the Nambé native was elected in 2008 to represent Northern New Mexico in Congress, Pelosi has been a mentor to Luján, who has become a loyal member of her leadership circle, most recently as assistant speaker.
The early endorsements could be seen as an attempt to create an air of inevitability to his campaign to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
And at least one expert in New Mexico politics said it could be a big help to Luján with fundraising from national sources, including other Democratic members of Congress, some of whom he has helped as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“That support will send the message to big contributors on the national level that’s it’s OK to contribute to [Luján] even before anyone else gets in the race,” said Brian Sanderoff, who heads the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc.
Luján, who declared his Senate ambitions shortly after Udall announced last month he wouldn’t seek a third term, so far is the only Democrat running, though New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has said she will make a decision about a possible bid before the end of the month.
Referring to Luján’s role as head of the Democratic Congressional Committee in the last election, Pelosi said in a statement, “During the 2018 cycle and under the threat of a gerrymandered map, Congressman Ben Ray Luján led our House Democrats to an astounding majority not seen since Watergate.”
Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House last year and regained control of the chamber for the first time in eight years.
Sanderoff said the fact that Luján helped so many winning congressional candidates with fundraising last year can only benefit his Senate campaign.
Haaland, who won her House seat in November, had been mentioned by some pundits as a possible Senate candidate after Udall’s announcement; however, she announced last week she wouldn’t seek Udall’s seat.
Sanderoff doesn’t expect Luján’s support from Pelosi, a veteran politician from San Francisco, will be a source of contention in next year’s Democratic primary.
But he said, “Republicans in a general election probably would try to link him to Pelosi, which they try to do with all Democratic candidates in the last several years.”
Nonetheless, such attacks haven’t really helped the GOP in New Mexico, he said. Last year, for instance, New Mexicans voted for Democrats in all three U.S. House races and for incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich in the 2018 U.S. Senate race — despite Republican rhetoric about Pelosi.
“They’ve always portrayed her as an ultra-liberal,” Sanderoff said, “but recently more and more people are seeing her as the moderate compared with some of the new members of Congress.”