The election’s done, what about 2020?

December 3, 2018

OK, now that the 2018 election is out of the way, it’s time to start getting serious about 2020.

I’m only kind-of joking.

It’s true that, less than a month after the big show in November, most of us are still burned out from politics, still full from Thanksgiving and looking forward to Christmas.

But as political pros from any party will tell you, there’s no rest for the wicked. Behind the scenes, the jockeying, the positioning and the strategizing will be starting soon, if it hasn’t already.

And political junkies already are talking about who might be running for what in the future and the relative strength of the Democratic and Republican benches.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, is up for re-election in 2020. He’s 70 years old, which isn’t terribly old for a politician (I just turned 65 a few weeks ago, so 70 really doesn’t seem that old to me anymore), so it wouldn’t be astonishing if he decides to run again. In fact, he was quoted in a recent Associated Press story saying it’s a “pretty good guess” that he’ll run again.

However, Udall considered, then turned down, a bid for governor this past election — an election he almost certainly would have won easily. So it wouldn’t totally surprise me if Udall decided to step down and enjoy retirement at the end of his term.

Who would rise to take his place? Let’s play a little fantasy politics.

It’s natural to look at the congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján just won a House majority leadership position, so he might not be tempted to leave his safe House seat. Our other two House members will be freshmen, or freshwomen, actually. Deb Haaland’s Albuquerque-based seat probably is safe for as long as she wants it.

However, the southeastern 2nd Congressional District, which Democrat Xochitl Torres-Small won with less than a 2 percent margin, will be a battleground for years to come, so a Senate race might not seem so tempting. Outgoing U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who lost the governor’s race to Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham by a landslide, remains popular in his district and hasn’t ruled out another congressional race — even though he’s also running for chairman of the state GOP. I can’t think of any Republican who would have a better shot at beating Torres-Small.

So if Pearce or some other strong Republican runs in that district, would Torres-Small be tempted to make a stab at an open Senate seat if Udall doesn’t run? Depending on her votes during her first term, I could see her becoming popular in Northern New Mexico and Albuquerque as well as her home base in Las Cruces.

Besides the House members, there are several other Dems who could be contenders in this hypothetical Udall replacement process.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who was just overwhelmingly re-elected to a four-year term, could be among them. Republicans are sure acting like they’re afraid of her. They demonized her after her unsuccessful move to bring back straight-ticket voting. And recently, outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, at a meeting of the state Canvassing Board, strongly implied there was something hinky with online absentee ballots issued by Toulouse Oliver’s office. (Martinez voted to approve the results despite her protest.)

But Toulouse Oliver won her re-election with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

Other possible Democratic contenders in this little game shied away from the governor’s race this cycle, but Attorney General Hector Balderas’ political ambitious have been obvious for years. He ran for U.S. Senate six years ago and lost to Martin Heinrich, but was re-elected last month by a monstrous margin. And Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller could run — though being mayor in any city often is hard to take to a higher level. Something as minor as potholes can ruin your political career.

How about the Republicans? Their bench is thinner. Outgoing Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who sat out this year’s election, might make another stab at the U.S. Senate seat. However, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, as I’ve pointed out in this column many times, is a lousy springboard, at least in New Mexico. Though many have tried, the last lieutenant governor in this state to go on to higher officer was U.S. Sen. Joe Montoya, who held that job when he won a U.S. House seat in 1957.

Perhaps newer Republican dark horses will emerge. Perhaps state Reps. Kelly Fajardo of Belen — who led the bipartisan effort last year to establish stronger sexual-harassment procedures for the Legislature — or Rebecca Dow, a well-liked lawmaker from Silver City. Either would be a fresh face, which is much needed in the state GOP. And nobody could accuse either of being an old white man, which could help their party’s image after the disaster of 2018.

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