Bingaman retires, Napolitano out in 2012 Senate contests

posted at 2:15 pm on February 18, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

First, the bad news for Democrats.  Another seat that they hoped to defend with a relatively moderate incumbent will instead go open in a state that has grown more Republican.  Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will end his Senate career at four terms:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, announced Friday he will not seek a fifth term. The New Mexico Democrat’s announcement complicates the efforts of Democrats to hold the Senate’s majority in 2012.

In 2008, Democrats won the other New Mexico Senate seat when Tom Udall won the open seat from retiring Republican incumbent Pete Domenici.  Udall rode Barack Obama’s coattails to victory, but since then, Republicans have surged in the state.  Susana Martinez easily won her gubernatorial election over Democrat Diane Denish to become the nation’s first Latina governor in 2010.

And now for the, er, further bad news for Democrats.  The retirement of Jon Kyl in Arizona gave Democrats an outside shot at a pickup next year, when they have to defend 23 seats to just 10 for Republicans.  However, the last Democrat to win as Governor won’t run in the Senate race, leaving Democrats with few options:

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will not seek the seat being vacated by Sen.Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a decision that increases the uncertainty in a prospective Democratic field in which no clear front-runner has emerged. The news was first reported by the AP.

“Secretary Napolitano told senior Democratic Party leaders earlier this week that she will not seek Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2012,” DHS spokesperson Sean Smith said in a statement issued Friday. “She cares deeply about Arizona, but the Secretary intends to continue doing the job that the President asked her to do — protecting the American people from terrorism and other threats to our country. She’s focused on continuing to strengthen our counter-terrorism initiatives, border security, immigration enforcement, transportation and cyber security, and disaster preparedness.”

Former state Democratic Party chair Jim Pederson, another prominent Democrat whose name had been mentioned as a possible candidate, also said earlier this week that he will not run.

Jeff Flake has already announced his campaign to run for the Republican nomination, and the Club for Growth immediately endorsed him.  He has a national presence as well as a well-known name statewide, thanks to his efforts to fight government spending.  Democrats have mentioned Gabrielle Giffords as a potential rival, but it’s unclear whether she will be well enough to return to her current job before the next election, let alone campaign for the Senate.  With the 2012 election expected to be hard fought, a Senate race would be particularly grueling, especially for someone in physical rehabilitation.  While we all hope that Giffords recovers enough to be able to choose such a path, it’s more likely that she will focus on her district if she chooses to run for office at all in 2012.

Even the good news for Democrats in 2012 seems to keep turning sour.


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