NM Senate Candidates Lining Up for Bingaman Seat

NM Senate Candidates Lining Up for Bingaman Seat

By Jeri Clausing - August 8, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's primary is 10 months off but debate on President Barack Obama's economic policies has already started on television and radio ads financed by the national Republican and Democratic parties.

While the economy appears to be topping voters' concerns in the 2012 general election, New Mexico's campaigns for the Senate primaries already promise to be long and bruising well before the battle is joined for a Western state that's key to next year's presidential election.

Strong candidates from both parties are raising money and setting up campaigns for the June primaries and the chance to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. The high-profile race will help drive the ballot, meaning the outcome determines not only the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, but also which presidential candidate takes this swing state's five electoral votes.

"It's going to be a wild ride," said Doug Turner, an Albuquerque public relations and advertising consultant who lost last year's GOP gubernatorial primary to now-Gov. Susana Martinez.

"I think it's all over the place. I think you have the traditional party establishment that still has significant influence over what is going on in the state. I think you have more, younger people who are looking to get involved ... You have the disgruntled tea party types — and they are not all Republicans. You have all makes and models of voters. They are looking for someone who has issues that resonate."

Bingaman is retiring after 30 years in the Senate, where he served alongside Republican Pete Domenici, who retired in 2008 after 36 years.

Democrat Tom Udall won the race for that seat, defeating Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, and giving Democrats both Senate seats.

Among the Republican candidates hoping to regain a Senate berth for the GOP is former Rep. Heather Wilson, of Albuquerque who gave up her seat to challenge Pearce unsuccessfully in the primary for Domenici's seat. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has also entered the primary race.

The two are already battling to prove their conservative credentials. Karl Rove is coming to town this week to help Wilson raise money.

Greg Sowards of Las Cruces, whose campaign slogan is "short, bald and honest," also said he intends to run.

"He is a little bit of a wild card," Greg Graves, a Roswell political consultant and former state GOP executive director, said of Sowards. "Everyone thinks he is a gadfly. But he has some real solid issues. Greg has never been in politics before ... that may be a thing that people are attracted to if he has enough resources."

Sowards is running on the traditional tea platform against career politicians and deficit spending, a return to conservative principles like gun rights, marriage between men and women only and border security.

Sowards, who owns a small chain of child care centers, raised $230,000 in the last quarter, $223,000 of which was his own money. Wilson raised $452,110, while Sanchez collected $111,487 and loaned himself $200,500.

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Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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