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Ben Ray Luján announces Senate campaign for Tom Udall's seat

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, announced Monday that he's launching a campaign for the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, making him the latest lieutenant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to leave the chamber and forego a bid to one day succeed her.

"I've been humbled by all of the outreach encouraging me to run and it's been an honor to serve you in the House where we've accomplished a lot together," said Luján in a video announcement Monday morning. "But to move forward, we've got to fix the Senate, where Mitch McConnell stands in the way of progress," he added. 

Luján, 46, has served as the representative for New Mexico's third district since 2008. He was elevated to the role of Assistant Speaker — a role with little functional power — after two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, most recently during the 2018 election cycle, when Democrats recaptured the majority they lost in 2010. As the highest-ranking Latino member of the House, he was widely seen as a potential successor to Pelosi as speaker if Democrats keep control of the House in the coming years.

While Luján holds a prominent position on Capitol Hill and would bring major fundraising prowess to the race given the national network of donors he cultivated as head of the DCCC, it may not be enough to guarantee him the opportunity to run unopposed in the primary. 

First-term Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, told CBS News last week that she is considering a run, and her fellow Democratic freshman, Xochitl Torres-Small, is also reportedly considering a bid. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has also been mentioned as a potential challenger as has former CIA spy Valerie Plame, who moved to New Mexico after being outed as a spy by members of the Bush administration at the height of debate over the Iraq war. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced last week he would not run.

New Mexico has the country's highest percentage of Latino residents, according to Pew, but it has not been represented by a Latino senator since the late Sen. Joseph Montoya was defeated in 1976.

Luján is not the only potential Pelosi successor to leave the House in recent years. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and former New York Rep. Steve Israel all ran for higher office or retired after seeing no pathway around the leadership trio of Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina. 

Some of that pressure was lifted after Pelosi struck a deal with her critics in December to serve no more than four additional years as speaker. But if Luján wanted the top slot, he would have likely faced competition from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, who are seen as potential future speakers.

CBS News' Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report. 

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