clock menu more-arrow no yes

Rep. Ben Ray Luján led the charge for a Democratic House. Now he’s running for Senate.

Luján announces he’s running for New Mexico’s open Senate seat in 2020.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) speaking with reporters after a House Democrats’ caucus meeting on Wednesday, February 13, 2019.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Luján has declared his candidacy for New Mexico’s Senate seat, which will be in play in 2020, now that Democratic Sen. Tom Udall is retiring.

Luján, a six-term Congress member from Santa Fe, is a rising star in House leadership. He oversaw Democrats’ sweeping 2018 midterms victory in his role as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But rather than waiting for his turn at the top of House leadership, Luján has his eye on the other chamber.

“We stood side-by-side as I led the effort to win back the House, so we could lower prescription drug prices, lower health care costs, fight for clean air and clean water, restore voting rights and equal rights and build a brighter future for our kids,” he said in his announcement video. “But to move forward, we’ve got to fix the Senate where Mitch McConnell stands in the way of progress.”

Luján is entering the race for a seat vacated by Udall, who recently announced he would serve out the remainder of his term and retire in 2020. And while other candidates, including first-term Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, may jump in the race, Luján’s path looks pretty good, as long as he makes it through the Democratic primary.

New Mexico is an increasingly blue state; Democrats captured every statewide office in 2018. Udall easily won his 2014 reelection race with nearly 56 percent of the vote.

That’s a potentially promising opportunity for a younger politician like Luján, who was staring down a longer road to more leadership opportunities in the House. Though he’s seen as an ally of Pelosi — the House speaker created Luján’s current position of assistant speaker after his successful showing in 2018 — he wouldn’t be the first departure of a young, ambitious politician from her leadership team.

With the long-entrenched leadership team of Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, younger members of Congress have historically left the House rather than wait their turn. Pelosi announced she’ll retire from her post by 2022, but Hoyer and Clyburn have made no such assurances yet.

Top Pelosi lieutenants in past years, including former Reps. Xavier Becerra and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), left the House to become attorney general of California and a US senator, respectively, rather than wait to ascend the House leadership ranks.

Luján is the latest to set his sights on the Senate.