Senate seats do not come open often in New Mexico, so friends of Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) have encouraged him to abandon his hopes of becoming the first Latino speaker of the House.
Lujan’s allies now want him to reach for the Senate — a more prominent office than his mid-level post in Democratic leadership — rather than bide his time waiting for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other veteran leaders to step aside.
“I think he has got a really good chance at both,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said Wednesday. “And I think he has to decide what’s best for him, his family and for the state, but I certainly believe that he should run for the Senate.”
Gallego, who decided against his own bid for the Senate this week, had one final bit of advice for his friend. “Don’t wait for it,” he said.
Luján is expected to jump into the race to succeed Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), according to a Democratic adviser familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
It’s part of a broad effort by liberal Latino activists to break through in the Senate and other statewide offices as their community has become an increasingly important voting bloc for Democrats.
The Latino Victory Fund jumped on Udall’s announcement Monday that he planned to retire at the end of 2020 by declaring that “it’s crucial that the next U.S. senator from New Mexico be Hispanic.” By Wednesday afternoon the PAC devoted to increasing Hispanic elected officials launched a website trying to draft Luján into the Senate race, citing the turbulent era of President Trump and the battles over his demand for a wall across the Southwest border.
“We cannot be overlooked; we cannot be taken for granted,” Melissa Mark-Viverito, interim president of Latino Victory Fund, said in an interview Wednesday.
The group has launched similar efforts in Arizona on behalf of Gallego before he pulled back from running, and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) in his consideration of challenging Sen. John Cornyn (R) in Texas next year.
All three draft efforts included a heavy dose of digital ads, trying to boost the number of Hispanic Democrats beyond just Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.).
Latinos made up 11 percent of the 2016 electorate and broke by a more than 2-to-1 margin for Hillary Clinton over Trump. By 2020, their share of the vote might surpass African Americans and make them the largest minority voting bloc.
But Hispanic leaders have often felt that, when it comes to statewide office, particularly Senate races, that establishment Democrats often favored the “electability” of a white candidate over a rising star Latino.