Democratic field narrows to 1 for Senate seat in New Mexico

New Mexico

File – In this Nov. 28, 2018, file photo, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., arrives at the Capitol in Washington. New Mexico’s secretary of state says she won’t pursue the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, clearing a path for Rep. Ben Ray Luján as the party’s candidate in 2020. Maggie Toulouse Oliver on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, announced in an email the end of her campaign and endorsed Luján’s campaign to succeed retiring two-term Sen. Tom Udall. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An unrivaled path to the 2020 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate emerged Tuesday for Rep. Ben Ray Luján after his only challenger quit the race to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Udall.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse, a rising progressive voice in state politics, ended her bid and endorsed Luján, the No. 4 Democrat in House leadership who has served six terms. He coordinated successful efforts last year to win back the House majority.

“I know that New Mexico will be in good hands if Ben Ray Luján is our next U.S. Senator,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement.

Toulouse Oliver, a former county clerk, came out with early calls this year for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and rejected campaign cash from corporate PACs — stances later adopted by Luján.

Luján’s fundraising machine easily outstripped efforts by Toulouse Oliver, who built her political base in Albuquerque as Bernalillo County clerk before moving to Santa Fe to serve as the state’s top elections and campaign finance regulator. Her term as secretary of state runs through 2022.

The Republican nomination is being pursued by two candidates who lost statewide elections in 2018 in landslides.

Albuquerque-based contractor Mick Rich unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich last year in a three-way race, while outpolling Libertarian former Gov. Gary Johnson. The GOP nomination also is being pursued by Gavin Clarkson, a former Trump administration official and professor on Native American economic issues. Clarkson lost a bid in 2018 to unseat Toulouse Oliver.

Luján, whose late father served as state House speaker for a decade, has handily won reelection by clear margins since his first race for the state utility-regulating commission.

On Tuesday, he complimented Toulouse Oliver in a statement for championing greater access to health care and action against climate change.

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