New Mexico's next big election isn't until November 2012, but the primary is less than a year away—and candidates are already out there hustling for money and votes.

While President Barack Obama's approval rating hovers somewhere below freezing, his potential GOP candidates are meeting roughly once a month to savage him (and each other) in TV debates. The race between the Republican presidential candidates will be at the top of the ticket on June 7. Democrats don't need to show up to support Obama, but they have many other reasons to look ahead to the primary.

The race to watch: US Senate

Seven candidates have already announced they’re running for the seat opened by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s retirement.

In 2006, Bingaman, who has served in the Senate since the dawn of time (read: 1982), clobbered his Republican challenger, Allen McCullough, winning 71 percent of the vote. But an open seat is fair game, and it could be much easier for a Republican to take if voters are in the mood for change.

The extremely qualified former US Rep. Heather Wilson had a hard time in her last primaries; she quit her job in the House to run for Senate in 2008, but was whipped by Rep. Steve Pearce, who had more appeal to the conservatives who vote in primaries.

We can again expect her fellow Republican opponents to try to smear her as a liberal, despite the fact that the far left loathes her.

Smooth-talking Lt. Gov. John Sanchez will try to make her life difficult, but Mormon entrepreneur Greg Sowards (whose campaign slogan is “short, bald, honest”) has found success with the tea party faction by running to the right of both Wilson and Sanchez.

Way out in right field is Alamogordo's Bill English, who has said he wishes Obama would "drop dead."

On the Democratic side, Albuquerque Rep. Martin Heinrich has given up his seat to run for Senate. In office since 2008, he’s tried to mold himself in Bingaman’s hard-working, wonky image. But State Auditor Hector Balderas, a former one-term state representative, also has an appealing image as a young, corruption-fighting Hispanic from small-town northern New Mexico. Also running is Andres Valdez, an Albuquerque political activist best known for his work against police brutality.

Luján looks safe in the US House

All 435 seats in the House are up for election in 2012, and for most voters in the Santa Fe area, that’ll mean deciding whether or not to keep Rep. Ben Ray Luján in the 2nd Congressional District. Ben Ray Luján, whose father is New Mexico Speaker of the House Ben Luján, was a Public Regulation commissioner before being elected to Congress. (Trivia: He was preceded by Jerome Block Sr.—and followed by Jerome Block Jr.) 

Redistricting probably won't change the fact that this is a solid Democratic district, but Ben Ray Luján's 2010 race was a lot closer than expected; his 57-46 win was a strong showing for Farmington Republican Tom Mullins.

For now, a little slice of Santa Fe County (four precincts in Edgewood) votes with Albuquerque in US Congressional District 1. If redistricting doesn't shake things up, residents will vote on a replacement for Heinrich.

Democratic choices include former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, retiring state Sen. Eric Griego, and former New Mexico Secretary of Health Michelle Lujan Grisham.

So far, two Republicans have signed up: four-term state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an open-government champion, and strip mall church pastor/upholstery foam dealer/Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis.

State Legislature

The entire state Legislature is up for election in 2012, but Santa Fe’s seats have remained pretty steady for the past few years.

Reps. Brian Egolf, Lucky Varela and Nancy Rodriguez and Sen. Peter Wirth all comfortably won re-election in 2008.

The notable exception: Ben Luján, who has held his seat for 37 years. In 2010, Luján was nearly defeated in the primary by a political unknown, Carl Trujillo, who lost by only 80 votes. Will Luján face a tough challenge again? Stay tuned!

Public Regulation Commission

With impeachment proceedings underway against Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., it may not even matter that he’s up for re-election in 2012.

Block, who has admitted an addiction to prescription painkillers, is being investigated for auto theft and for abusing his state-issued gas card. If he's impeached—or resigns when impeachment looks certain—the governor will take recommendations from the counties Block represents and name a successor who will serve until January 2013.