Friday, February 18, 2011

Jeff's Jolt: His Retirement Sets Off Scramble For An Open US Senate Seat; Plus: Bingaman's Place In New Mexico And The Nation 

The Bingaman bombshell blew up the state's political scene, setting off a frenzied scramble for succession, even as the shock of the Senator's retirement announcement was being absorbed. And then there was the loss to the state. We begin with the politics.

The overriding question in the wake of Jeff's Jolt was whether the state's two Democratic congressmen--Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan--would leave their House seats for a Senate run, replicating the wild and crazy year of 2008 when GOP Senator Domenici retired and US Reps Wilson and Pearce left their seats to seek the GOP nomination which Pearce won, but then lost in November to Democrat Tom Udall.

Lujan and Heinirch seem destined for a major league game of chicken--with each perhaps trying to keep the other out. If either or both get in they will be in the first tier of candidates for the 2012 Dem US Senate nomination with everyone else in the second tier. You can put the following names in that tier: Diane Denish, Attorney General Gary King, State Auditor Hector Balderas, former Bingaman campaign manager Terry Brunner, former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez and Lawrence Rael. Former Governor Richardson is not expected to enter the fray.

If both Lujan and Heinrich stay out, expect the political version of pandemonium to take over.

The national Democrats may try to move the nomination to the strongest candidate as they did in 2008 when they pushed aside then-ABQ Mayor Martin Chavez in favor of Udall. Expect them to do polling in the weeks ahead and then decide their course of action.

(One of the Alligators reports Heinrich's office has already bought the Internet domain name "heinrichforsenate.")

On the Republican side of the ledger, former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson is seen as the major beneficiary of the Bingaman retirement. She was weighing a run against Bingaman, but recent polling showed her in a weak position. But with Jeff gone, Wilson's stock just spiked up.

Will southern NM GOP Congressman Steve Pearce run again and again face off with Wilson. He just won his House seat back so it's doubtful he would leave it. But then ambition often knows no logic.

Another big player for the GOP US Senate nod could be Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez. He has statewide name ID, political experience and personal wealth. Former Governor Gary Johnson says he will not run. However, businessman Doug Turner who ran for Guv in '10 is going to look at running.

Neither Wilson or Sanchez are Tea Party Republicans, leaving room for the hard-core conservatives to field a candidate. They don't like Heather's moderate reputation. If they can't get Pearce in, they will look for someone else.

In a recent PPP poll, both Heinrich and Lujan beat Heather Wilson in a head-to-head match-up, but it is very early. Still, other possible hopefuls are going to want to produce their own polling showing they too can take out the top Republicans.


Bingaman, 67, did not pinpoint a specific reason for his retirement. He was first elected in 1982. He said there would never really be a good time to step aside as important work always beckons. We attended Jeff's retirement announcement at the Hotel Andaluz that was broadcast live by KOB and KRQE-TV and our impression was that he is just plain tired.

The announcement was a true shocker. Even his staff was taken aback. But Bingaman is not addicted to the power. He loves the work, but self-aggrandizement has never been the style of "Gentle Jeff" from Silver City.

The state's senior senator has made an enormous contribution to political civility. He is ethical, intelligent and hard working. As the years go by, he seems like an island of sanity in a sea of politics increasingly roiled by personal vitriol. We will miss that--deeply.

Jeff is #9 out of 100 on the US Senate seniority list. Recently, he engineered hundreds of millions of additional dollars for the state's national labs. He is chairman of the Senate energy committee, from which he protects and advances New Mexico's interests. We took a hit when Senator Domenici retired in 2008, but Bingaman picked up much of the slack. Now the state's outlook for federal funding becomes more foggy.

We respect his decision to have a life outside of politics, but it is regrettable that it has to come now when New Mexico's economic future is so uncertain and its political leadership is in transition.

Jeff Bingaman has had a noble and important career and gave the best of himself to his state and the nation. As we hope the best years for America are still ahead, we hope the same for Senator Jeff Bingaman.


"From his time in the Army, to his service as New Mexico’s Attorney General and Senior Senator, Jeff Bingaman has served this country and the people of New Mexico for more than three decades. He has been a tireless advocate for preserving America’s natural resources and promoting a clean energy future. Jeff has gained the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in New Mexico and in Washington, and his voice on the floor of the Senate will be missed. Michelle and I offer Jeff our best wishes and deepest appreciation for his lifetime of service.”

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