New Faces: Newly elected US senators
Democrats held onto both of New Mexico’s Senate seats Tuesday with election of one of the state’s fast-rising political stars, Martin Heinrich.
The 41-year-old, two-term representative in the U.S. House defeated Republican Heather Wilson for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
It is the second time in four years New Mexicans have elected a new senator, after Bingaman and Republican Pete Domenici held the state’s two seats for more than 30 years.
In 2008, Democrat Tom Udall, a former congressman and state attorney general, was elected to replace Domenici.
The themes of this year’s Senate campaign mirrored many of those in the presidential race. Heinrich portrayed himself as a defender of the middle class and safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security. But Wilson blamed Democratic policies for job losses and the nation’s sputtering economy. She opposed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which Heinrich supported.
Heinrich, 41, has quickly climbed up the ranks in New Mexico politics. He moved to the state in 1995 to take a job at a federal research facility after earning an engineering degree from the University of Missouri. He started a public affairs consulting business and in 2003 won a seat on the Albuquerque city council. Three years later he became state natural resources trustee, an appointive state government job overseeing the restoration of environmentally contaminated areas.
He took the seat vacated by Wilson when she made her first unsuccessful run for Senate in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to win the Albuquerque-area district in 40 years.
Heinrich grew up in Missouri, where his father was a utility company lineman and his mother was a factory worker. He and his wife, Julie, have two children.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp’s ascension to the U.S. Senate, as the first woman ever to serve North Dakota in Congress, represents the capstone of a political career that began 28 years and six campaigns ago.
The former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner defeated Republican Rick Berg on Tuesday by about 3,000 votes, with all precincts reporting. Berg had the option of demanding a recount, but he conceded the race Wednesday.
Heitkamp, 57, grew up in the rural southeastern North Dakota hamlet of Mantador, one of seven children. Her brother, Joel Heitkamp, is a former North Dakota Democratic state senator and a popular talk show host on Fargo’s KFGO Radio.
An attorney, Heitkamp was working as an assistant attorney general for the state Tax Department when she ran for North Dakota state auditor in 1984. She lost, but Gov. George Sinner appointed her state tax commissioner two years later when the incumbent, Kent Conrad, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Heitkamp won her own term as tax commissioner in 1988, and subsequently was elected to two terms as attorney general, getting at least 62 percent of the vote in all three races. Voters warmed to her affable, glad-handing campaigning style and often blunt public speaking style.
As attorney general, Heitkamp was one of the lead negotiators of a $206 billion lawsuit settlement reached by 46 states with the nation’s largest tobacco companies to compensate the states’ medical expenses for treating smoking-related illnesses.
She ran for governor in 2000 but lost to Republican John Hoeven, the former president of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, in a campaign that was derailed late by Heitkamp’s disclosure that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She says she is now cancer-free.
Heitkamp stayed active in politics after her loss, helping to lead a referendum campaign against the weakening of North Dakota’s bank privacy laws, and a ballot initiative campaign to force the Legislature to spend a larger portion of North Dakota’s share of the tobacco lawsuit settlement on anti-smoking measures.
She has vehemently disagreed with what she describes as President Barack Obama’s hostility to coal and oil as energy sources.
Ted Cruz’s election to the U.S. Senate from overwhelmingly Republican Texas was once unthinkable. Now it feels almost anti-climactic.
The tea party darling and former state solicitor general beat Democrat Paul Sadler to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. But his sweetest victory came in the GOP primary, when he stunned Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, one of the state’s most-powerful Republicans.
Never before having sought elective office, Cruz began the race polling at 2 percent. His father was born in Cuba and fought with Fidel Castro before his government embraced communism, then fled for Texas with $100 sewn into his underwear.Continued...