Fewer than 24 hours after Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) announced he would not seek reelection on Friday, signs were strong that former Rep. Heather Wilson would emerge as the favorite for both the Republican nomination and a pickup of Bingaman’s seat in 2012.
“I spoke to Heather on Friday night and she sure sounded like a candidate,” former state GOP Chairman Ed Lujan told HUMAN EVENTS on Saturday morning, “and, while she may not be as conservative as many HUMAN EVENTS readers would like, she’s pretty well-situated now.”
Lujan was referring to Wilson’s ’08 primary battle to succeed her one-time boss and mentor, Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. Following Domenici’s retirement that year, Wilson and fellow Rep. Steve Pearce relinquished their House seats to wage a hard-fought battle for the Republican Senate nomination. In large part because Wilson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 78%) took stands on abortion and other issues that contradicted social conservative principles, state and national conservative groups rallied around Pearce (lifetime ACU rating: 94%). (He narrowly won the primary, but lost the Senate race in November to Democrat Tom Udall. Last fall, Pearce recaptured his former House seat).
As for Wilson, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and onetime National Security Council staffer under George H.W. Bush has kept a high profile in GOP politics in the Land of Enchantment. She formed a political action committee to elect more Republican state representatives, helped fellow GOPer R.J. Berry win election as mayor of Albuquerque, and most recently headed the transition team for Republican Susana Martinez, who was elected governor of the New Mexico last fall.
“And Berry and Martinez have been doing good work in their respective offices, and we are now within three seats of taking the state House of Representatives,” Lujan told us. “So Republicans have the fresh faces and the political momentum. That will help Heather or whoever our [Senate] nominee is next year.”
Among Democrats, the most oft-mentioned Senate candidates are the state’s two Democratic U.S. representatives, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan. Whether either would relinquish their House seats after two terms each is questionable. Also mentioned is former Lt. Gov. Diane Daniels Denish, who lost the gubernatorial contest to Martinez last November. Denish’s father, former state Rep. Jack Daniels, was the Democratic Senate nominee in 1972.
Any discussion of New Mexico Democratic politics would not be complete without a mention of former Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been on the political scene since 1982 as congressman, UN ambassador, and Cabinet member. But after a second term marked by ethics probes and fiscal tumult, Richardson may have run out of political steam. As one wag put it, “He would probably lose to Mubarak.”