By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer
Five men vying for Republican nomination to a U.S. Senate seat say incumbent Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is disconnected from the people he serves.
“Is he (Bingaman) committed to New Mexico or to a job?” asked Dr. Allen McCulloch, a Farmington urologist, on Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Curry County Federated Republican Women.
Bingaman, 62, has served in the Senate since 1983. Alongside Pete Domenici, R-N.M., they have been one of the longest-serving duos in Senate history, according to Wikipedia online encyclopedia.
This longevity is good for the state, said Jude McCartin, a Bingaman spokeswoman.
“Having two senior senators is something to celebrate,” McCartin said, “There’s status in the number of years he’s served and the reputation he’s earned.”
Tom Benavides, a former state senator, who has worked as a justice of the peace, a business owner, an accountant and a rancher, said with confidence that he’s not threatened by Bingaman’s longevity in the senate.
“I’m known to beat incumbents… I think Bingaman is easy to defeat and he’s history,” Benavides said.
Though Bingaman’s approval rating is high (60 percent in August 2005, according to SurveyUSA), New Mexicans aren’t aware of how Bingaman stands on local and national issues, said Joseph Carraro, a Republican state senator.
“I’m not afraid to confront him. Bingaman’s approval is high, but I think the people of New Mexico need to know his voting record,” Carraro said at Tuesday’s forum.
Bingaman’s stand on the war in Iraq is not consistent with the beliefs of state voters, said David Pfeffer a city councilman from Santa Fe, who also wants Bingaman’s seat.
Bingaman voted against the Iraq war in 2002, along with 22 other senators, McCartin said.
Pfeffer, a former architect who is Jewish, said he supports the war and believes it has spawned an anti-Christian sentiment in the nation that will hurt Bingaman’s campaign for re-election.
“He (Bingaman) is vulnerable because of what he’s done. There is a war on Christianity in our country,” Pfeffer said.
Bingaman, a Methodist, supports American forces in the middle east, though he wasn’t convinced the rationale behind the war was justified, McCartin said.
“He supports the troops in Iraq 100 percent. He had concerns over the evidence for weapons of mass destruction. Some of his concerns were warranted. He’s committed to giving the military all the support it needs,” McCartin said.
After graduating from Harvard University and Stanford Law School, and serving six years in the Army Reserves, Bingaman has been in public office since 1978.
Carraro said Bingaman has been robbed of his empathy for the common New Mexican by the long duration of time he’s spent in elected office.
“I understand what it’s like to be an ordinary citizen. Jeff Bingaman has forgotten about that,” said Carraro, a former stock broker and financial analyst who said he once sold and delivered pizza.
Untrue, McCartin said.
“While the job of U.S. senator and voting takes place in Washington, he (Bingaman) spends a large amount of time in New Mexico communicating with constituents one-on-one. He responds to letters in detail. He meets with organizations from New Mexico in Washington,” McCartin said.
With the campaign slogan: “An ordinary man for an extraordinary New Mexico,” Steven Gavi, a Wal-Mart manager and former juvenile program officer in Bernalillo County, said he’s connected to voters in a way Bingaman is not.
“I grew up in Chaves County. I haven’t seen much change. We need someone in Washington that knows New Mexico,” Gavi said.
Bingaman visited every county of the state last year, McCartin said.
The primary elections are June 6 in New Mexico.
The general election is Nov. 7.