Not so long ago, even natural-born politicians hid their vanity. If they weren’t going to run for an office, they said so.

Some still operate that way. Gary Johnson, a two-term governor of New Mexico, only needed two words to answer the question of whether he’s interested in running for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Udall.

“I’m not,” Johnson said.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas is different. He sent notice to reporters that he would make an announcement Thursday regarding the Senate seat.

Then Balderas, 45, went on a radio station at a prescribed time to say he will not seek the Democratic nomination. He also posted a brief video in which he mentioned his family responsibilities and his desire to continue being attorney general.

Balderas took a winding road to say he isn’t going anywhere.

The bigger story is the Republican Party of New Mexico isn’t going anywhere, either.

It stumbled and bumbled in last year’s election, when first-term Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich might have been vulnerable. The Republicans ended up running a patsy for Heinrich to clobber. The patsy didn’t even have to win a primary before being taken to the woodshed.

Now, with New Mexico’s other U.S. Senate seat coming open, the state Republican chairman should be busy hunting for a new wave of candidates who could connect with voters the way Johnson did 25 years ago.

Too bad for the Republicans that their chairman is 71-year-old Steve Pearce. He just lost the election for governor by 14 percentage points, but said he might be interested in running for the Senate.

Pearce is a candidate the Democrats would welcome.

As the longtime congressman in Southern New Mexico, Pearce said he opposed the border wall sought by President Donald Trump. Then Pearce voted to build the wall, a flip-flop that jarred his loyal followers.

Embittered by his defeat in the governor’s race, in which he tried to play the part of a moderate, Pearce revealed himself with his support for the wall. It was one of his last acts as a congressman, but it won’t be forgotten.

The Republicans need not be in disarray. They actually have a deep bench of younger talent that often is overlooked.

State Sens. Cliff Pirtle, 33, of Roswell and Mark Moores, 48, of Albuquerque are smart, personable and thick-skinned.

They can also surprise people. Along with Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, they sponsored a bill this year for state-owned marijuana stores. Pearce, from his seat as chairman, said the Republican Party opposed legalization of recreational marijuana.

Another promising Republican is state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, 47, of Los Lunas. Quiet and cool-tempered, she shined a light on sexual harassment at the Capitol. With a reasoned open letter, Fajardo forced the Democratic leadership of the Legislature to put in place a system for investigations.

Pirtle, Moores and Fajardo are but three of the people who could help revive a moribund party. But as long as Pearce is mentioning himself as a contender for high office, they aren’t likely to be heard.

Moores, who played tackle at the University of New Mexico, still has the look and competitive fire of an offensive lineman.

“I think there’s a desire for new blood,” he said of his party.

Moores said people have spoken to him about the U.S. Senate race, but he can’t focus on it yet.

“To be frank, it’s too early,” he said. “We just finished a [60-day legislative] session. I need to think about my family and take care of our needs. We’ll take some time to think about it.”

Pearce’s predecessor as Republican chairman, Ryan Cangiolosi, did a fine job of turning New Mexico into a one-party system. The Republicans lost every statewide election last year, and they dropped the only congressional seat they had held.

In the state House of Representatives, Republicans had a net loss of eight seats. This buried them in the minority, 46-24.

The Republicans didn’t even bother to field a candidate in Santa Fe’s House District 46, where flea-weight Democrat Andrea Romero won despite a scandal over her misspending of money at a public agency.

Balderas made it clear that he won’t be a contender in 2020. Pearce is in the same position, though he didn’t have to say so.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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