Toulouse Oliver planning announcement on U.S. Senate race

Deb Haaland. New York Times file photo

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver appears to be gearing up to run for the U.S. Senate.

New Mexico’s top election official plans to make an announcement about the race later this month, said Heather Brewer, the manager of her 2018 campaign for secretary of state.

Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said last month that she was seriously considering running for Sen. Tom Udall’s seat in 2020, after Udall announced he would not seek a third term. The decision sparked a Democratic primary to nominate a potential successor.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland said Wednesday she would not run after publicly weighing a campaign that could have made her the first Native American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.

If Toulouse Oliver dives in, she will be the second candidate in the race after Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who quickly emerged as the one to beat, launching his campaign just a week after Udall’s announcement.

As assistant speaker of the House, Luján brings fundraising power and a prominent political name to the race.

Still, Toulouse Oliver made her political career in Albuquerque — the state’s biggest city and a key battleground for candidates. And coming out of an election that made 2018 “the year of the woman” in American politics, Toulouse Oliver would stand to make history as the first New Mexico woman to win a Senate seat.

Toulouse Oliver was elected secretary of state in 2016 to finish the remaining two years of Dianna Duran’s term after Duran’s resignation and conviction on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and campaign finance violations. Previously the Bernalillo County clerk, Toulouse Oliver won her first full term in 2018 with 58 percent of the vote and does not face re-election until 2022.

As secretary of state, Toulouse Oliver has gained national attention for work on election security. She also has promoted campaign finance reform and other changes in election policy that have become particular priorities for Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Having spent the past several years as a county clerk and secretary of state, though, she has not had to publicly take positions on issues such as health care or the border.

She has rankled Republicans with changes in campaign finance rules and her support for changes in election laws, such as same-day and automatic voter registration. That could be to her advantage in a Democratic primary.

Luján easily has won re-election in his Northern New Mexico district again and again and has risen quickly. He was a Public Regulation Commission member a decade ago, then won a seat in Congress and led the Democrats’ effort to win back the U.S. House in 2018.

While Toulouse Oliver might be able to peel off Democrats disaffected with Luján’s management of the party’s congressional campaign efforts, which plenty on the left have criticized as tone deaf to the some of the caucus’ younger rising stars, it likely would be a fierce primary between the two of them.

No Republicans have jumped into the race yet.

Some observers, such as at the newsletter Inside Elections, view the state’s Senate race next year as at least strongly favoring Democrats.

The GOP may have a better shot at winning an open seat, though, instead of running against an incumbent like Udall, had he sought re-election.

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