“The Bingaman dominoes” doesn’t quite have the same ring, but look for a similar reshuffling of the political deck now that U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman is retiring. That’s especially true if any of New Mexico’s U.S. House members jump into the Senate race, and all three – Democrats Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and Republican Steve Pearce – are thinking about it.
So are some other big-name politicians, including former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and current state Auditor Hector Balderas, both Democrats. Politico reports that Balderas is “95 percent in” the Senate race.
Balderas may have nothing to lose – as long as he runs a competitive race. If he isn’t elected to the Senate, he keeps his job as auditor.
Many politicos are considering running for Senate, or for additional seats that might open up because of others deciding to run for Senate.
“Any Dem with statewide name ID and a potentially more rosy electoral landscape would be a fool to not take a look at it,” said one Democratic insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There’s plenty of activity on the Republican side as well, as others ponder the possibility of running for Senate if Pearce and former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson opt against running – or perhaps even if they do run.
“Anybody interested in policy and serving the nation has to look, and I’m among them,” said former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque. Someone has anonymously started a website to encourage Arnold-Jones to run for Senate.
Many will consider Arnold-Jones a long-shot candidate if some of the more high-profile politicos mentioned above get in the race. Another potential long-shot candidate is Democrat Terry Brunner, Bingaman’s former state director who now heads USDA Rural Development in New Mexico.
Such potential candidates may be pushed to instead run for U.S. House seats or in other races as the deck is reshuffled, but Arnold-Jones said she’s not sure she’s interested in running for Heinrich’s seat even if he vacates it to run for Senate. She said a person can have a greater impact in the Senate.
One politico who is considering entering a House race is Edgar Lopez of Las Cruces, a Democrat. The head of a real estate company and longtime political insider said he received some calls from Washington encouraging him to run for Senate, but he’s more interested in considering running for Pearce’s House seat.
“I am humbled and flattered to be mentioned,” he said, adding that he will wait to see what redistricting does to the boundaries of the 2nd Congressional District before deciding whether to run.
Of course, there are already two Republicans in the Senate race, candidates who jumped into the fray before Bingaman announced his retirement. They are Greg Sowards of Las Cruces and William S. English of Alamogordo.
Only the beginning
This is only the beginning. As the highest-profile politicos decide what they’re doing, their choices will help others make decisions, and the reshuffling could continue all the way down to local races.
New Mexico was a high-profile state during the 2008 election because of the presidential contest, the race to replace Domenici, and the down-ballot contests that resulted from the domino effect. Once again, New Mexico is a swing state in a presidential contest and has an open Senate seat that will be hotly contested. The Land of Enchantment is going to get a lot of attention during this election cycle.