The most likely potential Democratic candidates are Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan. Heinrich, 39, might be the strongest candidate simply because he hails from Albuquerque where he was the popular president of the City Council before he was elected to Congress in 2008, succeeding Wilson. Heinrich’s challenge that year was making it through the four-way Democratic primary, which he won with 44 percent. He was victorious in the general election, receiving 56 percent of the vote, and he was reelected to a second term in 2010 with 52 percent.
Lujan was also elected in 2008, winning the Santa Fe-based 3rd Congressional District that Udall vacated to run for the Senate. It is the most Democratic in the state with a PVI of D+7. Lujan also faced a competitive primary in his first bid, taking 42 percent in a four-way field. He won the general election with 57 percent and was reelected last year with 57 percent. Lujan is the son of New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan.
None of the three House members would start the race with a significant financial advantage. As of December 31, Heinrich had $54,473 in the bank, while Lujan had $55,809, and Pearce had $33, 374 cash.
According to the early-February Public Policy Polling survey (545 registered voters), Heinrich was ahead of Wilson, 50 percent to 39 percent, and Pearce, 53 percent to 38 percent, in hypothetical general-election matchups. Lujan also bested both Republicans. He led Wilson, 48 percent to 40 percent, and was ahead of Pearce, 49 percent to 37 percent.
We don’t put a lot of stock in one survey, especially an IVR poll, taken before Bingaman’s announcement. One takeaway is that New Mexico is likely to host its first competitive Senate race in decades, assuming that both parties recruit first-tier challengers.
In putting this race in the toss-up column, which has six Democratic seats to two Republican ones, it is now possible for Republicans to score the net gain of four seats they need to win the majority. WARNING: We are not predicting a Republican majority. That’s impossible to do with 20 months to go before the election. What we are saying is that it looks more likely today than it did yesterday. And, if it comes to pass, Democrats will have to look at their open seats as a major part of the reason. In some ways, it seems that Senate Democrats, who know well that their hold on the majority is precarious, are unwittingly engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy because these retirements make it only more difficult for them to retain the majority.
This cycle has miles and miles to go, but Republicans are sitting in an increasingly strong position.