Eric Griego and Michelle Lujan Grisham are in a dead heat for the Democratic nomination to the 1st Congressional District with a week to go, while Marty Chávez has fallen behind, a Journal Poll found.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said the survey taken May 21-24 indicates that the race for the June 5 primary election nomination has become a two-way battle between Griego, a state senator and former city councilor, and Lujan Grisham, a Bernalillo County commissioner and former state health secretary.
Chávez was an early front-runner with high name recognition among voters as a three-term Albuquerque mayor, but he has failed to draw new supporters, while his opponents have surged in recent weeks, Sanderoff said.
The candidates have stepped up their advertising, and all three Democrats appeared in a televised debate, co-sponsored by the Journal and KOAT-TV, on May 19.
“What’s happened is, as the other candidates are getting better-known, they’re surging, and he’s not,” Sanderoff said.
Lujan Grisham and Griego were deadlocked in the May 21-24 survey, each backed by 33 percent of the Democratic voters polled in the 1st Congressional District. Chávez trailed the front-runners with about 20 percent of the vote. About 14 percent of the Democrats were undecided.
Results for the districtwide sample of Democratic voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
The Democrats are vying to replace Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who is running for the U.S. Senate. The winner will face former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination on June 5.
Race to the finish
In the final week before Election Day, the tight congressional race will become a fight for the undecided voters, Sanderoff said.
“We don’t know how they’re going to break. We do see there are two candidates who appear to have the momentum,” Sanderoff said. “People know Marty. You love him, perhaps you don’t, but you know you have an opinion on him. These other two, people are still forming opinions and so they might have an advantage on picking up more of the undecideds.”
Winning undecided voters will likely start with women. Eighteen percent of all women likely to participate in the primary hadn’t made a decision on a candidate at the time of the poll.
“Women are nearly twice as likely to be undecided as men,” Sanderoff said, citing the Journal Poll finding that about 10 percent of men were undecided. “If candidates agree that women are more likely undecided in the closing week of the campaign, you would think they would focus more on issues that would resonate with women.”
Griego led by a small margin among women who had made up their minds, despite efforts from Lujan Grisham’s campaign to make women’s issues, such as abortion rights, a focal point of her candidacy. All three candidates favor abortion rights.
Another emphasis of the Democratic primary race for all three candidates has been appealing to seniors.
Voters over 65 years old appeared to favor Lujan Grisham, who has cast herself as an advocate for seniors, with an emphasis on her work as a former state secretary of aging to regulate New Mexico nursing homes.
Griego, however, drew greater support from likely pre-retirement voters ages 50 to 64, a group Griego has heavily targeted with pledges to protect future Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Lujan Grisham and Chávez have also promised to protect the entitlement programs, but they have not equally emphasized the issue in campaign materials.
Ethnicity does not appear to be a major factor in the Democratic race, Sanderoff said, likely because all three of the candidates are Hispanic. However, Griego had a small lead among Hispanic voters, and Lujan Grisham had a small lead among Anglo voters, according to the Journal Poll.
Some of Chávez’s struggle to keep up in the race could stem from the fact that Democratic primary voters don’t see the former mayor as liberal enough, Sanderoff said. Chávez has been successful in past nonpartisan city elections in part by appealing to moderate Republicans.
“You have more partisan, committed members of their party participating in the election, and they tend to be more liberal,” he said.
In a primary where only 30 percent of Democratic voters are expected to participate, that pushes Chávez further behind Lujan Grisham and Griego, who describe themselves as far-left progressives, Sanderoff said.
Chávez has also been the subject of news articles raising questions about his romantic relationship with Loretta Mares, a former city contractor charged with fraud related to contracts with a Santa Fe hospital.
Griego and Lujan Grisham have also taken hits in the past week.
Griego drew scrutiny for 11 arrest warrants issued by Bernalillo County judges between 2000 and 2007. The Journal reported that the warrants were issued after Griego missed required court appearances for traffic tickets or failed to register for court-ordered driver’s school programs. The story was published about halfway through the polling period.
A Journal report about Lujan Grisham, published after the poll was completed, outlined the county commissioner’s failure to pay county property taxes on time in seven of the last 10 tax years, most recently in December.
For the front-runners, the race could come down to which campaign is better-organized, Sanderoff said.
“Having a good (campaign) field operation, identifying your supporters, getting them out to the polls … will probably make the difference in this race,” Sanderoff said.
The Journal Poll on the 1st Congressional District was conducted May 21-24 by Research & Polling Inc. The survey is based on telephone interviews in the district with 413 proven Democratic primary voters who said they voted early for the current primary election or planned to vote on or before Election Day on June 5. The margin of error for the sample of Democratic voters is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal