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Three hours after Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., received what she describes as, “probably the best job ever offered in my lifetime” – a senior executive position running a large defense and intelligence operation.
On Friday Feb. 19, Bingaman announced his retirement. On Sunday Feb. 20, Wilson gathered her husband Jay Hone, son Joshua Hone, 17, and daughter Caitlin Hone, 14, at their Albuquerque home to discuss her options.
“I had three choices – I could continue doing what I was doing (security consultant), accept the job offer or run for the senate,” Wilson said during a Friday morning interview. “I’m married to a great guy who is generally supportive of whatever I choose to do but I was surprised at how strongly my children felt that I should run for the senate.”
With her family’s blessing and the attendance of more than 40 Republican officials, Wilson formally announced her candidacy at a packed rally in Albuquerque March 7.
“I’m very concerned about the future of the country,” she said. “If you look at what’s gone on in the last two years, especially in terms of financial expenditures, it simply is not sustainable.”
New Mexico’s longest serving senator, Pete Domenici, endorsed Wilson at the Albuquerque event. “She is experienced, ready and can do the job,” he said.
Wilson, 50, is a former Air Force captain and Rhodes Scholar who held the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District U.S. House seat from 1998-2008. Wilson ran for Domenici’s vacant senate seat in 2008, but lost in the GOP primary to Steve Pearce. Pearce lost in the general election to Democrat Tom Udall. He won back his 2nd congressional seat in the last election.
Pearce has stated that he is busy with his work in congress and has no plans at this time to seek Bingaman’s seat.
“I called Steve and what he’s saying publicly, he’s said in private,” Wilson said.
Wilson had been thinking about running for Bingaman’s seat even before he announced his retirement, she said. There are still 17 months left before the election but Wilson said there was no reason to wait to launch her campaign.
“I made a decision and once you’ve make that decision there’s no reason to be coy about it,” Wilson said, adding that the race is going to be “very expensive.”
Following Wilson’s announcement, Capitol Hill’s Roll Call newspaper placed New Mexico in its 2012 “elite eight” battleground for high-profile senate contests that could determine control of the chamber.
The remaining key contests include Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Nevada, according to the report.
Political analysts essentially agree should Wilson win the primary, she has a strong shot at victory in the general election as well. Former congressional candidate Greg Sowards and radio host Bill English are already in the race on the GOP side with talk that Lt. Gov. John Sanchez may follow suit. Speculation on
Democratic candidates includes Rep. Martin Heinrich and state auditor Hector Balderas. There are also whispers that former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish may run.
Like Domenici, Wilson is considered an ardent supporter of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “We need a strong defense and that includes a safe and effective nuclear defense, which includes our national laboratories,” she said. “I support the CMRR project and the science-based stockpile stewardship … NNSA needs to carefully monitor the costs on the project and building so it can be built and is sustainable.”
Wilson travels to Los Alamos often, she said, to visit her many friends residing here. Retired Sen. Stephen Stoddard of Los Alamos spoke about Wilson during an interview late Friday.
“I’ve known Heather for at least 10 years and think she is very qualified for the position … I wish her every success in her campaign,” Stoddard said.
Wilson lives in Albuquerque with her husband of 20 years, their children and their Beagle and King Charles Spaniel mix, Miss Moneypenny.
Facts about Heather Wilson
•Born in Keene, New Hampshire 1960
•Accepted into the Air Force Academy at age 17
•Distinguished Academy Graduate in 1982
•Oxford University Rhodes Scholar
•Master’s Degree in Philosophy in 1984
•Ph.D. in International Relations in 1985
•United States Air Force 1978-1989
•Director European Defense Policy and Arms Control, National Security Council staff 1989
•Founded Keystone International, Inc. promoting business development in the U.S. and Russia 1991
•Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department 1995-1998
•Elected to Congress 1998
•Member of President Bush’s National Security Council 1989-1991
•Currently a security consultant/candidate for U.S. senate