National media coverage about a plan to eliminate college tuition.

Unveiling new fuel economy standards at a climate change event in New York.

Withdrawing National Guard troops from the border in a challenge to President Donald Trump.

These are just some of the policy initiatives Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has pushed in New Mexico during her first nine months in office that are garnering national attention — the kind that creates inevitable talk about bigger, if not necessarily better, political landscapes.

“Her actions on the state level and the solutions she’s pursuing are creating a buzz,” said Christina Amestoy, deputy communications director at the Democratic Governors Association in Washington. “National press and other states are really taking notice of what she’s able to do and thinking about ideas on what could happen on a federal level and in other states as well.”

In part, this may be because the partisan gridlock in Congress makes any flurry of initiatives at the state level more noticeable, Amestoy said, adding issues the governor is taking on happen to align with those at the forefront of national policy conversations and in the Democratic presidential race.

For instance, there’s climate: A recently inaugurated Lujan Grisham issued an order aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

There’s gun control: She’s already signed a controversial background check bill and wants to pass so-called red-flag legislation in the next session.

And others: The governor is making legalizing recreational marijuana a priority and has taken on other contentious issues, such as an abortion bill that failed earlier this year.

Asked about national attention, Lujan Grisham’s office said the governor is only focused on New Mexico.

“If you’re doing great things for New Mexicans, I suppose it’s possible that you will be noticed outside of these borders,” spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said. “That’s not at all what we’re paying attention to or aiming for or interested in.”

Perhaps, but some people in Democratic circles in Washington say they’ve heard Lujan Grisham’s name mentioned more often in influential policy circles and also on the sidelines of the Democratic debates.

“I’ve recently heard of people talk about her for VP,” said Colm O’Comartun, who is a partner at Washington-based consulting firm 50 State and the former director of the Democratic Governors Association. “Now, nobody as a first-term governor is going to want to encourage that kind of conversation. But I was at the debates and as people asked, ‘Who would you put on a ticket?’ there was talk about her.

“That’s just chitchat,” he continued, but “she brings a brightness and excitement that is unusual among the 50 governors of the U.S.”

Doug Thornell, a principal at political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker who was a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee, called Lujan Grisham “a rising star in the party” who has “a lot of good buzz inside the Beltway and actually beyond.”

“Whoever the nominee is, they’re probably going to take a look at her,” said Thornell, who has also been a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “She’s an accomplished governor, a Latina and has been able to get some significant things done when a lot of things aren’t getting done in D.C. All of those things add up.”

And Adrienne Elrod, senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said she also had noticed increased attention around Lujan Grisham’s policies in New Mexico.

“Anytime you get a New York Times story or you’re getting booked on MSNBC, people are going to say, ‘Why is she getting national attention?’ ” Elrod said. “People are going to start buzzing about that.”

Elrod said she hadn’t heard Lujan Grisham’s name as part of the vice president rumor mill but believed she could be a good option for the eventual nominee.

“She would be a very attractive candidate for vice president or higher office at some point, should she decide to go that route,” said Elrod, who also is an MSNBC contributor. “The ticket has to have a woman and has to be diverse in some way, so someone like Lujan Grisham fits the bill. But there are many others who do, too.”



The governor’s spokesman reiterated last week that Lujan Grisham is not aiming for any other positions, and Lujan Grisham said as much in a July interview with The New Mexican.

“I want to be focused on this job,” she said at the time. “I know it may sound trite, but I want to do a great job. I do that by being focused on being governor.”

Even if the governor isn’t seeking national attention, that doesn’t mean she’s not getting it.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said he has noticed “growing excitement” around Lujan Grisham nationally, with mayors and governors in other states taking note of some of her policies.

“Michelle Lujan Grisham charging forward to get us to net-zero emissions in New Mexico by 2045 is something that has been applauded across the country,” Lujan, the assistant House speaker, said in an interview. “Big city mayors are taking notice that she’s moving policy forward and that we’re standing up to the Trump administration when it comes to climate standards.”

Former state officials who worked with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have made similar comments.

“It’s natural that she is attracting national attention,” said Paul Bardacke, former state attorney general and chairman of Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. “That is what happens when you take firm stands on important issues rather than just see which way the wind blows.”

“There are a lot of people around the country who think she has star power,” said Michael Stratton, a senior consultant to Richardson’s 2008 presidential campaign. “There is some buzz around the country that she could be a good match to be a VP candidate.”

One factor that may bring more attention to Lujan Grisham over the next year is Trump’s declared intention to try to flip New Mexico in next year’s presidential election, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Lujan Grisham already has challenged key Trump administration policies on border security and climate, for example, and such opposition could be noticed more nationally if the president is campaigning here.

“If the Trump people follow through,” Sabato said, “there will be a lot of attention on New Mexico.”

Reporter

Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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