But getting Heller in the race was a recruiting win for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which two years earlier approached him to run against Reid. The GOP also caught a big break when scandal-plagued Sen. John Ensign (R) announced in early March that he would not seek re-election, sparing the party an ugly primary.
Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich’s recent entrance into the race represented the first recruiting victory for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and his decision to leave his Albuquerque-based seat for a chance at statewide office gave Democrats a top-tier candidate in one of the five open-seat Senate races.
Most political observers assumed Heinrich would run after Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) announced his retirement in February. The two-term Congressman won the open 1st district in 2008 when then-Rep. Heather Wilson (R) ran for Senate.
Wilson, a moderate, is running for Senate again, but a matchup between the two Albuquerque-based candidates is not assured.
On the Democratic side, state Auditor Hector Balderas is looking at the race, though state insiders say there is a chance he could decide to run for Heinrich’s House seat instead.
The Republican field is more crowded, and the GOP has a history of bloody primaries in the state. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez met recently with reporters in Washington, D.C., and said he is giving it serious consideration. Conservatives Greg Sowards and Bill English are already in the race, but Sanchez would likely give Wilson her toughest challenge. Like much of the West, New Mexico is a must-win state for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
The most likely scenario in the Old Dominion is a matchup between political heavyweights Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R). Both former governors went to Washington, D.C., after their tenures in Richmond, and they are now on a crash course for November 2012.
Republicans have been tying Kaine to President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders, as they seek to make the race a referendum on the president. In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964, but Republicans swept the statewide races a year later and picked up three House seats in 2010.
Sen. Jim Webb’s retirement announcement left Democrats with a large void and in search of a candidate who could handle the beefed-up campaign that Allen had already assembled. With some help from Obama, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee got its man when Kaine made his bid official.
Several Republicans are challenging Allen, including tea party leader Jamie Radtke and conservative businessman Tim Donner.