Senator Jeff Bingaman, a pro-abortion Democrat from New Mexico, announced today he would not seek reelection in 2012. A seat that was firmly in Democratic hands may now be up for grabs.
Bingaman’s retirement is the fourth high-profile Democratic retirement, adding to Republican momentum to take back the Senate majority. Democratic Senators Jim Webb of Virginia, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (an independent who caucuses with the Democrats) and Kent Conrad of North Dakota also announced they will be retiring from the Senate in 2012. All four of these retiring senators hold pro-abortion stances.
Bingaman won his last reelection with 71% of the vote and would have easily retained his seat in 2012. However, his retirement has the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) worried. In 2010, pro-life Republican Susana Martinez cruised to victory in the New Mexico gubernatorial race, despite the state’s blue tendencies. President Obama carried the state by 15 points in 2008. With Obama at the top of the ticket in 2012, Democrats start this race with an advantage.
Potential Democratic candidates include Representatives Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lugan, both of whom are pro-abortion. Former New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is also being mentioned as a potential contender for the seat. Denish, who also has a pro-abortion position, lost her 2010 bid for governor to Susana Martinez.
Former Representative Heather Wilson has been mentioned on the Republican side to run for the seat. In fact, Wilson’s name was mentioned even before Sen. Bingaman announced his retirement today. Wilson, however, has a mixed record on the right to life. While in Congress, Wilson voted pro-life only 42% of the time according to the National Right to Life Committee. Wilson supports embryonic stem cell research and voted against an amendment to ban certain federal funds to Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Steve Pearce, a pro-life Republican with a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee, is also seriously considering a bid for the seat. Pearce would be a much stronger candidate on the right to life than Wilson.
While Democratic prospects of retaining Senate control are looking grim after the recent wave of retirements, only two Republicans have announced retirements. Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas are giving up their seats. Kyl has maintained an extraordinary pro-life record during his time in the Senate. Hutchison, on the other hand, has a mixed record. Both of the races in Arizona and Texas, however, favor Republicans. Virginia and North Dakota are ripe for Republican turnovers. New Mexico, though Democrats may have an edge, will certainly be a key race for both the DSCC and the NRSC. Democrats can probably bank on winning the Connecticut Senate race unless the GOP is able to find a viable candidate in the heavily Democratic state.