Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Lujan File: Ben Ray's National Star Will Shine Or Dim Depending On November; What It Means For New Mexico  

Rep. Lujan 
2018 could very well be the most important election in the life of Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. Not that he has much of a challenge to overcome in his heavily Democratic northern congressional district--he doesn't--but as chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign Committee (DCCC) he does have a challenge in meeting the expectation that the Democrats retake the majority in the US House.

If the stars align in November and the Dems are back in power Ben Ray's star will shine brighter than ever, so bright that some DC pundits say it could catapult him into a new role--chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the number 4 slot in the US House leadership. That would keep the 46 year old deeply involved in the national scene and perhaps positioned to climb even higher in the House leadership in the years ahead. That in turn could enhance New Mexico's fortunes which are inextricably tied to federal government spending.

The political calculus is pretty simple: Win the House and your jet takes off. Lose the House while Trump occupies the White House and you stall out.

Even if Dems retake the majority Lujan would have a battle to take the caucus chair post which is opening up because of the stunning primary upset of New York Rep. Joe Crowley.

Chief among them is Rep. Linda Sánchez, vice chairwoman of the caucus and No. 5 behind Crowley. The California Democrat had been seen as the most vulnerable member of the leadership team after publicly calling last fall for Pelosi, Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to move on to make way for a new generation. . . But the opening could also prompt other younger, ambitious members to vie for the post. Lawmakers including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico were being floated by Democratic members and aides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been instrumental in Lujan's rise but she is battling a burgeoning uprising among newer generation Dems. But nothing is as rejuvenating as victory and if the DCCC brings one home Election Night the Lujan association with Pelosi will have hit pay dirt. If they lose, well. . .


So just what does the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus do?

The House Democratic Caucus serves as the organizational forum to elect party leaders at the outset of each new Congress. The caucus meets on a weekly basis to discuss party policy, pending legislative issues, and other matters of mutual concern. 

The chairman is limited to two terms for a total of four years and is elected by the entire Dem membership in the House.


Congressman Lujan faces two unknown candidates this November as he seeks his sixth term. They are Libertarian Christopher Manning of Kirtland and Republican Jerald Steve McFall of Angel Fire.

He won his 2016 re-election in a landslide, 62% to 38. The central part of the district--Hispanic counties like Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Mora--go heavily for him. His weak spot is GOP dominated San Juan. It has a large population but one that has stagnated in recent years because of the natural gas crash. He also has soft spots in small rural, conservative eastside counties like Curry and Roosevelt.

Lujan appears to have become a creature of the House and has exhibited no open ambition to become a US Senator or some day make a run for Governor.

A potential trouble spot for him is Los Alamos National Labs whose future has become a bit more uncertain under President Trump. It is by far the most important economic presence in the district.

Meanwhile, he visits the district often, gets good press and votes in tune with the center-left politics of the majority of the region. That adds up to landslide re-elections.


New Mexico is a state that historically has had a power position on Capitol Hill through Senators such as Chavez, Anderson and Domenici. If it is to resume that power position it now appears for the first time the state's best chance currently come from the US House and NM native Ben Ray Lujan. That makes the 2018 election not only crucial for the politically savvy Lujan but for New Mexico as well.

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