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Jeff Bingaman to Retire

Jeff Bingaman to Retire

By Erin McPike - February 18, 2011

New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman will announce his retirement today, Democratic sources confirmed.

Bingaman, who is serving his fifth term, is among the most senior Democrats in the Senate. He also serves as chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson has shown interest in running for the New Mexico Senate seat in 2012, and some reports suggest her candidacy would be contingent on Bingaman's decision.

Wilson lost a Republican Senate primary in 2008 to Congressman Steve Pearce. Pearce subsequently lost the race to now Democratic Sen. Tom Udall and has since returned to his old House seat after a Democrat held it for one term.

While Republican Susanna Martinez won the state's open governor's race handily in 2010, Democrats don't believe that this seat is too difficult to hold. They point out that President Obama carried New Mexico in 2008 by 15 percentage points, and that Democrats maintain a 17-point registration advantage over Republicans in the state.

Going forward, Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich appears to be in solid shape should he choose to enter the Senate race. Recent polling shows him beating both Wilson and Pearce by double digits in hypothetical Senate matchups.

In several conversations with RealClearPolitics, Heinrich has expressed caution about the race and has said multiple times that he expected Bingaman would run for re-election. He said previously he expected to know Bingaman's decision by March and would think about the Senate race if Bingaman did retire.

Democratic Senate strategists note that the early retirement announcements from senators like Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and now Bingaman are all part of a larger strategy put in place by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Patty Murray of Washington. The committee hopes to avoid late retirement announcements that would lead to shortened campaigns for new candidates. Instead, they hope to see candidates - including those such as Heinrich, potentially - hit the ground running early. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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