This is Part II of a series of guest posts by Bob King.
Part II – Senate: New Mormon Senator from New Mexico?
The open U.S. Senate race in New Mexico this year could produce another Latter-day Saint senator. Congressman Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) is the Democratic candidate in the race to replace retiring senator Pete Domenici (R). At this point most pundits consider Udall the frontrunner to win the seat – a Democratic pick-up in the Senate and another Mormon Senator.
The Udall Family Political Dynasty
Tom Udall is the son of Stewart Udall, former U.S. Congressman from Arizona and Secretary of Interior (1961-1969) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is also the nephew of Morris “Mo” Udall (D-Arizona) who served in Congress from 1961-1991. Both Stewart and Mo Udall were Church members.
The Udalls are a prominent LDS family descended from David Udall, an English convert, who emigrated to the United States in the early 1850s and eventually settled in Nephi, Utah. Several of his descendants were among the Mormons who settled eastern Arizona in the late nineteenth century, and several family members have been prominent in Arizona politics. (Political Graveyard – Udall Family of Arizona)
In the 2008 election, three Udall family members are candidates for the U.S. Senate. In addition to Tom Udall running in New Mexico, his cousin Congressman Mark Udall (D-Colorado) is also running for the senate. Mark is the son of Mo Udall and the nephew of Stewart Udall. To keep things in the family, the mother of Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) is Jessica Udall, a first cousin of Mo and Stewart Udall. Smith is a second cousin of Tom and Mark Udall.
Tom Udall and his cousin Mark were both first sworn in as members of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 6, 1999. Eight years after their first election to Congress, both are in races for the Senate. Mark Udall, though he comes from a Mormon family, does not identify himself as a member of the Church. His chances of winning a Senate seat in Colorado appear to be almost as good his cousin Tom’s chances in New Mexico. Congressional Quarterly, on its seven-point election rating scale, ranks the Colorado Senate race as “leans Democratic” for Mark Udall (CQ Politics – Senate Ratings.) Cook Political Report rates the Colorado race a “toss-up” (Cook Political Report – Senate Race Ratings). With Colorado expected to be one of the battleground states in the presidential election, this race is one that will have considerable national attention.
Tom Udall’s Background and his Senate Election Prospects
Although Tom Udall’s father represented Arizona in Congress and Tom was born in Tucson and attended Prescott College in the state, his mother’s family had strong ties to New Mexico dating back to the territorial era. Tom received his law degree from the University of New Mexico, and he has had a long political career in the state. He first ran for congress in 1982 but lost the Democratic primary to Bill Richardson – New Mexico’s current Governor, Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration, and an unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate this year. Udall made a second run for Congress in 1988 but lost in the general election. From 1991-1999, he was elected to two terms as Attorney General of New Mexico. On his third try for congress in 1998, he defeated his Republican opponent 53% to 43%, and he has been reelected in the following four elections. (Tom Udall biography.)
New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, which Udall represents, covers the northern part of the state and includes the state capital Santa Fe, as well as other major cities of Los Alamos, Gallup, and Farmington. The early Mormon agricultural settlements in the state are in this district. The state of New Mexico, however, has a small LDS population – only 3.2%.
Udall has a liberal Democratic record in the House of Representatives. The National Journal ideological ranking gives him an 80% liberal rating in 2007. His rating on key votes for the American Civil Liberties Union was 100% in 2007, and his rating on issues of interest to the AFL-CIO was 96%. Consistent with the strong record of his father and uncle on environmental issues, he received a 100% vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters. (See “Interest Group Ratings” for Congressman Tom Udall at Project Vote Smart.)
The New Mexico senate race pits Tom Udall against Congressman Stephen Pierce, who has represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Pierce had a tough primary race against the third member of the state’s congressional delegation, and he won the primary with only 51% to 49% of the vote, which is likely to help Udall in the general election in November. (U.S. Senate Election in New Mexico 2008, Wikipedia.)
This Senate race has been identified as a key contested race, but it appears that Udall has the edge. Although the senate seat that is being vacated is held by a Republican (Domenici) and two of the state’s three House seats are held by Republicans, New Mexico has a Democratic Governor (Bill Richardson) and its other Senator is a Democrat. Furthermore, it has been trending more Democratic in recent elections. The state is expected to be a battleground state in the presidential election, which makes the Senate race more interesting.
The latest financial reports of the candidates indicate a healthy advantage for Udall. In the latest reports, he has raised $3.2 million for the Senate campaign and still has $2.9 million cash on hand. Pierce, who spent $1.8 million for his hard-fought primary win, has raised $1.9 million but had only $248,000 cash on hand. (Center for Responsive Politics – Open Secrets.)
Congressional Quarterly, on its seven-point election rating scale ranks the New Mexico Senate race as “leans Democratic.” (CQ Politics – Senate Ratings.) Cook Political Report also rates the race “lean Democratic” (Cook Political Report – Senate Race Ratings).
Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), the Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the designated senator to assist Republican Senate candidates, has acknowledged that the party is facing a formidable challenge against Udall. According to political analysts, New Mexico and Virginia are the two states most likely to change from Republican to Democratic control in November. When asked point blank if the NRSC was considering walking away from these two states in order to focus limited resources on other more promising races, Ensign did not confirm or deny anything but said, “You don’t waste money on races that don’t need it or you can’t win.” (Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008)
Four, Five or Six LDS Senators in 2009?
Two Mormons are top tier candidates in the most hotly contested of the 35 Senate races taking place this year – Gordon Smith (R) in Oregon and Tom Udall (D) in New Mexico. When NRSC chair Senator John Ensign was asked to identify the ten most competitive senate races, he included both Oregon and New Mexico. (Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008) If both candidates win their races, six Latter-day Saints will be serving in the Senate – the highest number of Church members ever to serve in that body.