NM political deck to be reshuffled once again

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

When former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici announced his retirement in 2007, it led to a remaking of New Mexico’s political map that I called the Domenici dominoes.

“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.

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Down-ballot races

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.

4 thoughts on “NM political deck to be reshuffled once again

  1. Heather Wilson may be “popular” with Republicans but her dirty tricks, unethical actions and extremely partisan behavior in the past will work against her. Things are quiet now…but if she tries to run again, New Mexico voters will be reminded of her past actions.

  2. I agree with the statement by Javier, that Heather Wilson is the best draw for the conservatives. I also think Steve Pearce should keep his position as a Congressman. He can do more good for the people there than any place else.

    I hope he learned the lesson from the last time he tried to cross from the Congress to the Senate. If he truly wants to serve the people of the state he needs to look to what he can do from the Congress. If he were to get into the fray and lose again, the conservatives constituents would suffer from it and his popularity as a candidate would be hurt for any position he runs for.

    On the other hand Heather Wilson is popular and not sitting in office. Her chances of being elected to Bingaman’s seat is high. As far as Lujan, Heinrich are concerned it would be a tremendous loss to the Democrats. I do not believe Hector Balderas would be able to make it against Heather, but only the people will speak at the polls.

  3. The Dems would be smart to keep Heinrich and Lujan in their respective seats and ensure that those seats stay Dem (this is especially true for CD1, which is a lot more competitive than CD3).
    Balderas would be a formidable candidate. He has statewide appeal (he already won 2 statewide races by wide margins), has a reputation for being ethical and a hard worker. He connects with Northern Hispanics, with rural voters, urban progressives and moderate independents. Neither Heinrich or Lujan can say the same. He is the only one of the Dems who can take on Heather Wilson – the toughest candidate the Republicans can nominate.

  4. Jeff Bingaman has been good for New Mexico and good for the country. He will be missed. And I dread the instability in New Mexico politics that his retirement will bring.