February 18, 2011

Report: Jeff Bingaman to retire?

Politico is reporting that New Mexico senator Jeff Bingaman is set to announce that he won’t seek reelection in 2012, setting up yet a third open seat race in the southwest. This one is a bit more of a stretch for Republicans–New Mexico is a swing state with a bluish tint–but not impossible if the GOP has a good year, and if our presidential nominee does well enough in the state. If these rumors prove true, the two most likely Democratic candidates are Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, the state’s two Democratic congressmen. Heinrich in particular is considered a rising star by national Democrats, and–if I recall correctly–could have the ability to self-finance. So, if Bingaman is really out, my money is on Heinrich to be Democrats’ nominee.

On the Republican side, a variety of factors could come into play, depending on who runs. Unquestionably, based on recent polling at least, Republicans’ strongest candidate would be former governor Gary Johnson. Johnson performs best against both Heinrich and Lujan in head-to-head match-ups. A more likely candidate is former representative Heather Wilson, who ran for and lost the senate nomination in 2008 against Steve Pearce. My guess is that there will be considerable pressure on Pearce, from both the NRSC and NRCC, not to run again, and to hold down NM-02, giving Wilson (or perhaps Johnson) a clear shot. Another potentially interesting candidate would be Lieutenant-Governor John Sanchez. Though he’s new to his job, Sanchez’s profile (Hispanic former businessman) could help make him an intriguing candidate for this race. From an electoral perspective, however, the ideal scenario would be for Gary Johnson to give up his presidential race for a winnable senate race against Martin Heinrich, and for Heather Wilson to have a go at retaking her old house seat in an open-seat race. If Wilson is determined to run for the senate (likely) and Johnson is unwilling to come home and take a crack at it (a virtual certainty), the best scenario is probably for 2010 candidate John Barela to take a shot at NM-01 as an open seat. As I recall, Barela ran a pretty good campaign, but couldn’t prevail against Heinrich’s gobs of money. Barela might do better in an open race. I also don’t want to throw too much cold water on a Heather Wilson candidacy. While I’m not convinced Wilson can beat Heinrich, I’m not convinced she can’t either, under the right circumstances. She’s a good campaigner, who managed to beat a statewide office-holder (Patricia Madrid I believe) in the tough 2006 environment. If she can get Pearce to endorse her early on and win the primary, Wilson could make a real race of it in the general. In any event, look for this open-seat race to be one of the most closely watched contests of 2012, if caliber candidates get in on both sides.

by @ 1:34 pm. Filed under Gary Johnson, Rumor Mill
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24 Responses to “Report: Jeff Bingaman to retire?”

  1. Max Twain Says:

    Johnson should really look at this. I know he is looking at the presidential nomination, but the fact is he’s got no shot at it. This senate seat, though, could give him the national platform he desires in a presidential campaign. Look at Rand Paul and the ability he has now as a senator to affect the national debate and stir real change. Johnson joining Paul in the Senate would be another big victory for libertarians and the Tea Party, and I think he should go for it.

    Heather Wilson would make a great general election candidate, but I’m afraid she’ll never be able to get there. Unlike Wilson, Johnson can beat both Pearce and the Dem in the general.

  2. Matt "MWS" Says:

    Max,

    I agree.

    And as all the Democrats on Capital Hill know, it will take a miracle for them to hold the Senate in 2012, every if Obama grows coat tails. They are defending 24 of 33 Seats, and only have 4 to spare. The Democrats have a ton of territory to protect, and each one of these retirements in red and purple states makes it that much harder.

    Look for more retirements from older Senators who aren’t interested in being in the minority again. Same thing in the House.

  3. Matt "MWS" Says:

    Correction, they only have 3 seats to spare. If they lose 4, Republicans take the Senate.

  4. Matt "MWS" Says:

    …actually if they lose 3 and the White House, they also lose the Senate- with the VP casting the tie breaking vote.

  5. Jonathan Says:

    This is very encouraging. Bingaman is probably unbeatable, but an open seat in the right environment could be picked up. Susanna Martinez showed how to win New Mexico convincingly and whoever we nominate (and I agree it’ll probably be Wilson), should follow the Martinez play book.

    Really though, this just furthers the consensus that the Democrats have no chance of holding the Senate this cycle.

  6. greg Says:

    are these senators just had it with obamas agenda why have we seen so many stepping down on the democratic side is it because next year is a presidential election cycle??

  7. Craig for Huck in 2012 Says:

    The Army and NASCAR win in Congress!!!

    Vote just in: 281-148 8)

  8. Matthew Newman Says:

    Sanchez is an interesting choice – he ran and lost a race for Governor in 2002 against Bill Richardson. That said, in 2000, he beat the Speaker of the House in a bid for NM House of Representatives. Successful businessman, former State Representative, incumbent LG – with the right platform and money, he could be an excellent candidate.

    That said – Johnson is the obvious, strong choice according to all polling. He beats anyone except Bingaman (who’s not running) in PPP polling from earlier this month. Plus, Johnson will get that national platform, as Max put it, for his libertarian ideas.

  9. Craig for Huck in 2012 Says:

    House votes to let Pentagon sponsor NASCAR races
    3 minutes ago

    By a 281-148 vote, lawmakers rejected an effort by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum that would have ended the practice. McCollum aides said the Army …Seattle Post Intelligencer

    =====

    Don’t mess with my stuff when my stuff attracts 46,000 qualified recruits per year for the Army alone!

  10. Craig for Huck in 2012 Says:

    I second, third, and fourth Gary Johnson as the next Senator of the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico.

  11. A.J. Nolte Says:

    My top choices would be: Johnson, Sanchez, Wilson. Any one of them could run a heck of a good race.
    Craig: I’m surprised not to hear more from you about the recent planned parenthood vote.
    And, if someone added a link to the Catanese piece, thanks for doing that; making my screen-reader work with links is a genuine and serious pain.

  12. Matthew Newman Says:

    AJ – Here’s a link to the most recent PPP Poll from New Mexico, from earlier this month. Bottom line: Johnson’s the strongest, and beats all potentials polled. Others polled don’t do so well, including Wilson.

  13. Craig for Huck in 2012 Says:

    AJ,

    Everyone knows what I think about PP. Period.

    What do you think about the vote, my friend?

  14. A.J. Nolte Says:

    Matt Newman: yeah, I saw that, but remember when Rubio was thirty points behind Crist? Wilson could make a go, if she played her cards right.

  15. A.J. Nolte Says:

    Craig: Well, I’m no fan of government funding for abortions, and it makes sense from both a so-con and a fiscal austerity perspective. I’m also realistic enough to know we’re going to need pro-choice pseudo-fiscal-conservative suburban women if we want to take out Obama, and that, if we lose the house and senate, this’ll prove temporary. I don’t know, but Republicans have _got_ to win the messaging war, and make clear that this isn’t just about a social conservative crusade on abortion, but also a desperate need to make real cuts in order to get us on an even footing. So it’s a big social conservative victory, but if we don’t address it from a fiscally conservative perspective, it could be an epic disaster. The Terry Shiavo thing didn’t play well. This is different–a government limit not an expansion–and that’s important. But we have _got_ to get ahead of the curve on explanations or it’ll bite us hard. And while I’m as aware as the rather unpleasant origins of Planned Parenthood in the American Birth Control League as anyone (those of us born blind sometimes do study eugenics rather carefully), it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of people think of PP as those nice people who give out free birth control pills and counseling. Frankly, I would have rather seen a ferenzic audit first; soften up their neutral to positive image among swing types, and such like, by exposing how criminally neglegent the abortion industry can be.
    From a non-political perspective, of course, I find it quite encouraging, but I can’t help but worry we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. I don’t know, and I hope I’m wrong.

  16. A.J. Nolte Says:

    Well, that was fast. NR is reporting Gary Johnson has already ruled out running for the senate. Looks like Wilson or Sanchez, then.

  17. A.J. Nolte Says:

    IMHO Pearce won’t run; NRCC will want him to stick around and ensure Harry Teague can’t take the seat back.

  18. Matt "MWS" Says:

    AJ,

    I think that is very short sighted of Gary. I understand if he just doesn’t want to be a Senator. But if his goal is furthering his cause as much as possible, he’s better off taking joining Lee, Coburn, and Paul in the Senate.

  19. Metro Says:

    Maybe Gary thinks he actually has a chance at the Presidency.

  20. Dave Says:

    Heather Wilson is the only realistic choice. She will be a SuperStar in the Senate.

    1. Air Force Academy graduate.
    2. First female Rhodes Scholar.
    3. Doctorate in International Relations from Oxford.
    4. Served brilliantly as a member of the National Security Council.
    5. Elected and re-elected in a Democrat District.

    She’s needed in a Senate which has a pathetic paucity of International expertise. AND, she is an excellent campaigner who can win the seat.

  21. Sam Says:

    I could still see Johnson doing this if his campaign for President goes nowhere and he’s the only Republican who could win this. A senate seat would give him a real national platform – he’d be even more of a natural media magnet than Rand Paul.

  22. Craig for Huck in 2012 Says:

    Exactly, Sam. And if not him, there are a couple other good choices.

  23. A.J. Nolte Says:

    20: Heather Wilson does have an impressive profile. My concern about her is actually the primary; she lost to Steeve Pearce last time. If she can consolidate primary support, I think she can have a go at it. I’d also be happy with Sanchez.
    And you’re right in thinking that another international relations person in the senate would help. We may well not have Lugar; Wilson could become a real senate expert on those matters.

  24. Sam Says:

    A recent PPP poll that showed Gary Johnson beating potential Democrats Heinrich and Lujan. The other Republicans polled — Wilson and Pearce — were blown out of the water by the Democrats. Johnson does well because, unlike other Republicans, he is very strong with independent voters. He’s even well liked by traditional Democrat voters. He has 53% favorability with Hispanics and 42% favorability among 2008 Obama voters.

    http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2011/02/bingaman-would-be-safe-open-seat.html

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