Former Rep. Heather Wilson seeking U.S. Senate seat

Sue Major Holmes

ALBUQUERQUE — Former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson made official Monday what had been rumored for days — she’s running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

Wilson announced her decision to seek the GOP nomination at an Albuquerque paper supply warehouse packed with more than 100 supporters. The warehouse was decorated with a huge American flag behind the podium, and Wilson’s family and a who’s who of Republicans in New Mexico flanked her as she made her announcement.

Introduced by former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, Wilson told the crowd she’s running because she’s deeply concerned about the country’s future.

“If we stand by and do nothing, history will judge our generation as the beginning of America’s decline,” Wilson said.

She criticized President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress, and said the nation’s free market system, economy and tradition of limited government are under assault.

Domenici, who immediately endorsed Wilson, said she is “experienced, ready and can do the job.” More than 40 Republican officials and former officials also said they would support her candidacy.

In a release from the Wilson campaign, Clovis Republicans Matt Chandler, the current 9th Judicial District attorney, and State Senator Clint Harden voiced support for the candidacy.

“Heather and I served in the Cabinet together under Gary Johnson,” Harden said. “She showed a real talent for getting the waste out of government while making sure it worked well for citizens. I’m proud to endorse her and call her my friend.”

Former New Mexico congressman and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. said the crowd for Wilson’s announcement was important to show her level of support to other Republicans and perhaps persuade them not to challenge her in the 2012 primary.

The 50-year-old Wilson represented an Albuquerque-area congressional district for five terms. She gave up the seat in 2008 to make an unsuccessful run for the GOP nomination for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat vacated when Domenici retired.

Wilson lost the 2008 GOP primary to Steve Pearce, who ran for Senate rather than seeking re-election in New Mexico’s 2nd District. Pearce lost in the general election to Democrat Tom Udall.

Wilson, who has been a private consultant in Albuquerque, headed the transition team for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez after last year’s general election.

Even before Wilson’s announcement, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out a video about her time in Washington and a news release contending she improperly pressured the then-U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David Iglesias. He was among nine federal prosecutors fired in a series of politically tinged dismissals in 2006.

Wilson and Domenici came under fire after Iglesias alleged they pressured him before the November 2006 election to bring an indictment in a public corruption case. Wilson and Domenici acknowledged calling Iglesias but denied pressuring him.

Wilson is the most prominent Republican set to enter the Senate race.

Conservative businessmen Greg Sowards of Las Cruces and Bill English of Alamogordo announced for the GOP nomination last year.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, state Auditor Hector Balderas and former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish have said they’ll make a decision soon. Albuquerque political activist Andres Valdez has announced plans to run for the party’s nomination.

Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate, won election to the House in 1998, becoming the only female veteran in Congress.

A member of the third class of women to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1982, she later became a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University and served from 1989 to 1991 on President Bush’s National Security Council.

Wilson came to New Mexico to marry her former Air Force Academy law professor, Albuquerque attorney Jay Hone.

She was tapped in 1995 by then-Gov. Gary Johnson to head the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

Associated Press writer Barry Massey in Santa Fe contributed to this report.