New Mexico Senate Race: Martin Chavez Is In

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The race for the Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici continues to take shape.

Albuquerque’s popular Mayor Martin Chavez plans to announce tomorrow morning that he will run for the Democratic nomination. Chavez tells me he made the decision after speaking to Governor (and presidential contender) Bill Richardson, who is the top choice of national Democrats. “He told me, ‘Marty, I’m not running. I’m running for the President,'” Chavez says, adding that Richardson assured him that he will not change his mind if he loses his presidential bid. (That’s an option Richardson might well have: The filing deadline in New Mexico is February 12, which is a week after the crucial round of big-state primaries that many believe will give someone a lock on the nomination.)

Last week, Democratic Congressman Tom Udall also announced that he would not run. Still mulling whether to make a bid are Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a strong prospect who is also being encouraged to run by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Patricia Madrid, the former Attorney General who lost a hard-fought House race to Congresswoman Heather Wilson last year. Chavez said he expects Denish to opt for the Governor’s race instead.

On the Republican side, Congresswoman Wilson has already announced that she is running, though her prospects have been tarnished by the U.S. Attorney scandal. Congressman Steve Pearce is also considering it.

Chavez says the opportunity was simply too good to pass up. Senate seats don’t come open all that often in New Mexico. (Domenici has held his since 1972; junior Senator Jeff Bingaman was elected in 1982.) And the political landscape looks particularly good, Chavez says. “This is a Democratic state–one that has occasionally elected a moderate Republican–in what’s certainly going to be a Democratic year.”

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Linda for this TPM Election Central link to early polling of potential matchups in the race, as well as to the ones that might have been.