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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 02/18/2011

Jeff Bingaman to retire

By Chris Cillizza

Updated, 4:11 p.m.

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced his retirement today, a move that further complicates his party's efforts to hold their Senate majority in 2012.

"The end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside and allow someone else to serve," Bingaman said at an Albuquerque news conference. "It is not easy to get elected to the Senate, and it is not easy to decide to leave the Senate."

Bingaman had been mulling whether to run for a sixth term for months and, if he had, would have almost certainly been re-elected.

His retirement, however, creates an open seat contest that both national parties will almost certainly target. Democrats should start the race with an edge, however, given President Obama's 15-point victory margin in the state in 2008.

"It speaks volumes about the state of the two political parties that as strong Republican candidates step forward in key races, Senate Democrats in important battleground states are stepping aside, said a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman in a statement.

Bingaman is the fourth Democratic (or Democratic-aligned) Senator to announce that he will not run for re-election in 2012, joining Sens. Jim Webb (Va.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) on the sidelines.

Two Republicans -- Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) -- are not running for new terms.

Democratic strategists, while disappointed in Bingaman's decision, cast the decision as part of a broader strategy put in place by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) to force members on the fence to make their intentions clear early on.

The fields for each side remain uncertain.

Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan will almost certainly be mentioned on the Democratic side as might that of former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. A consultant close to Denish told the Fix that "Diane is going to give this opportunity strong consideration as she decides how to best continue to serve the people of New Mexico."

"We will have a strong Democratic who will hold onto this seat," a DSCC spokesman said in a statement.

Former Rep. Heather Wilson has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate even before the Bingaman retirement and seems likely to make the race. Sources close to Rep. Steve Pearce say he is looking seriously at running.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 18, 2011; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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