Rep. Martin Heinrich (above) is facing former Rep. Heather Wilson for the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. The race is close, and both candidates have outside groups adding support and money to the contest.
Wilson needs presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to keep the margin smaller than in 2008, when Obama won the state by 15 points. But if the presidential contest doesn’t get more competitive, Heinrich conceded that his campaign will likely need to pick up the slack on field operations, a vital program to turn out Hispanic voters.
He will also lack the assistance of a straight-ticket device option, which allowed New Mexico voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with a single selection but is not an option for the first time in decades.
Wilson consultant Todd Harris said at Wednesday’s NRSC briefing that her “path to victory is going to be to obviously hold the Republican base, but also to add to that coalition with a significant chunk of independents and conservative Democrats, some of whom may be voting for” Obama.
New Mexico’s Senate seats were once a bastion of stability, but in the past four years the state will have lost 66 years of Senate tenure. Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman is retiring after 30 years, following Republican Pete Domenici’s retirement in 2008.
“Vacant Senate seats are a rarity in New Mexico,” Sanderoff said. “Given the power of incumbency, everyone knows that the winner of this vacant seat will probably hold it for a very long time, thus massive resources will be expended on influencing the outcome of the election.”
Heinrich is backed by a coalition of environmental and conservation groups that have pledged $1 million in support on the airwaves so far, likely providing him the largest outside support for a Democratic Senate candidate in the country. He needs it. He has an imposing opponent — one of the GOP’s top recruits — and millions in outside spending against him yet to come.
While the state has trended Democratic in recent federal elections, Republicans could be encouraged by Gov. Susana Martinez’s victory in 2010. She has governed as a pragmatic but unabashed conservative since taking office last year.
Heinrich has been the target of GOP-aligned groups since the June 5 primaries, plus two positive ads on Wilson’s behalf by American Crossroads — the only two positive Senate ads the group has aired all cycle. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also just launched a positive ad on Wilson’s behalf.
The Heinrich campaign estimates that spending by outside groups has been about even since the primaries, with each side spending about $650,000 on Wilson and the Congressman, respectively, as of last week. Heinrich was criticized in an ad last month by the American Future Fund on federal spending, while American Commitment, another GOP-aligned group, slammed him on taxes.
The environmental groups working on Heinrich’s behalf include the Defenders of Wildlife, League of Conservation Voters, NRDC Action Fund, Sierra Club and Environment New Mexico. They’ve launched TV and mail campaigns accusing Wilson of supporting corporate polluters.
“There’s already been a lot of money spent in this race, and I don’t see the numbers moving at all, one way or the other,” Heinrich said last week. “We’ll be up on television soon, and we’ll stay up through November.”
His campaign launched its first general election television ad on Tuesday, showing him working in the community and highlighting his connection with middle-class voters.