If Jeff Bingaman runs for reelection Democrats don't have to worry about keeping their Senate seat in New Mexico. In an open seat situation the party would still be in pretty decent position to keep it but a Gary Johnson candidacy on the Republican side could make things interesting.
Bingaman is one of the most popular Senators in the country, with 56% of voters approving of him to only 27% who disapprove. He's pretty universally well liked by the Democratic base, independents give him good marks by a 50/21 margin, and his 19% approval with Republicans isn't great but is still better than a lot of Democratic Senators get across party lines.
We tested former Governor Gary Johnson, Congressman Steve Pearce, and former Congresswoman Heather Wilson against Bingaman. He easily dispatches all of them, leading Johnson by 11 points at 51-40, Wilson by 19 points at 56-37, and Pearce by 23 points at 57-34.
Bingaman's lead over Pearce is consistent with the margin Tom Udall won by in 2008. Pearce simply is not an appealing statewide candidate- only 35% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of him compared to 44% with an unfavorable one. Wilson's a pretty weak potential candidate as well with 39% of voters rating her favorably to 45% with a negative opinion.
Johnson is by far the most intriguing potential entrant on the Republican side. He's popular with 44% of voters holding a positive view of him to just 32% with a negative one. What's unique about his numbers is that there's almost no variation across party lines- 46% of independents, 44% of Democrats, and 43% of Republicans see him favorably. His unusual views on some issues have had the effect of making him unusually popular for a Republican with Democrats, but also unusually unpopular for a Republican with Republicans. If he could get through a Republican primary his crossover support might make him a pretty formidable candidate but doing that could be an uphill battle.
If Republicans want to win the state in an open seat situation Johnson might be the way to go though- he leads both Democratic House members in hypothetical contests, 44-43 over Martin Heinrich and 45-40 over Ben Ray Lujan. The more traditional potential candidates of Pearce and Wilson meanwhile would start out well behind the Democratic duo. Heinrich leads Pearce 53-38 and Wilson 50-39 in head to head match ups and Lujan leads Pearce 49-37 and Wilson 48-40.
With the weight of Bill Richardson off Democrats' backs and a 2012 electorate that's likely to look a lot more like 2008 than 2010, New Mexico is probably going to be a pretty tough state for Republicans next year. But if Bingaman retires and Johnson can somehow snag the Republican nomination it could make for an interesting Senate race.
Full results here