Martin Heinrich holds a wide lead over Hector Balderas for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate in the June 5 primary election, while Heather Wilson is dominating the race against Greg Sowards on the Republican ballot.
Heinrich, a U.S. House member and former Albuquerque city councilor, led Balderas, the incumbent state auditor from the tiny town of Wagon Mound, 51 percent to 26 percent, with 23 percent undecided, according to a Journal Poll conducted May 21-24.
Wilson, who held the 1st Congressional District seat for five terms before Heinrich, had two-thirds of the Republican voter support in the Journal Poll for the GOP nomination to the Senate seat. She was leading Sowards, a Las Cruces businessman, 66 percent to 20 percent, with 14 percent undecided.
The Senate seat is opening up with the retirement of five-term Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Heinrich and Wilson are the better-known candidates in their respective primary election contests and have substantially outspent their opponents.
Heinrich and Balderas will face off in a televised debate next Sunday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Channel 7, co-sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Journal. Wilson declined to participate in a KOAT-Journal debate with Sowards.
One key factor in Heinrich’s advantage over Balderas is Heinrich’s dominance in the population-heavy Albuquerque metro area, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the Journal Poll.
Other factors are Heinrich’s strong support from Anglo voters and holding his own among Hispanic voters, despite Balderas’ Hispanic heritage, Sanderoff said.
“The reason Heinrich is doing so well is because he’s strong in his home base of Albuquerque and is competitive among Hispanics,” Sanderoff said.
Heinrich had an advantage over Balderas among all voter categories and most regions of the state.
Balderas had a slight advantage in the north-central region of the state, which encompasses his hometown of Wagon Mound and a large percentage of New Mexico’s most active Hispanic voters.
But Heinrich racked up 65 percent support in the Albuquerque metro area, compared to only 20 percent for Balderas.
Sanderoff noted that Balderas’ role as a state auditor is a fairly obscure one, though Balderas has been involved in some high-profile public audits over the years and most recently in the scandal-plagued border community of Sunland Park.
Balderas is a lawyer and served one term in the state House of Representatives before being elected to the first of two terms as auditor in 2006, the youngest Hispanic in the country elected to statewide office at the time.
“Hector Balderas is an up-and-comer who’s run a clean, well-spoken campaign, but state auditors are not well-known,” Sanderoff said.
With limited campaign funds to run against the better-known Heinrich, Sanderoff said, Balderas “has faced an uphill battle.”
The Heinrich-Balderas primary election has been free of negative campaigning. But Heinrich had outspent Balderas $1.7 million to $744,784 as of May 16, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Wilson, like Heinrich, is the better-known candidate in her primary election contest.
“Sowards is virtually unknown statewide,” Sanderoff said.
Now working as a private defense consultant, Wilson was elected to five terms in the U.S. House from the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District. She ran statewide for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2008, losing in the Republican primary to Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who went on to lose to Democrat Tom Udall.
She established herself as a national security expert in previous House terms but is focusing her 2012 campaign on the U.S. economy and the federal budget.
Sowards, who runs a Las Cruces day care business, twice ran unsuccessfully to be the Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat in southern New Mexico before launching his current Senate bid.
Wilson had spent about $1.6 million on her Senate race by May 16, compared with $592,674 by Sowards.
Wilson led Sowards in all voter categories and all regions of the state in the Journal Poll. She polled more strongly among male voters than female.
Sowards has portrayed himself as more conservative than Wilson and last week sent out mailers to Republicans statewide attacking Wilson’s ethics. Wilson’s campaign called the attacks “old, worn-out smears that have been disproven time and again.”
Journal polls on the U.S. Senate primaries were conducted May 21-24 by Research & Polling Inc. The polls are based on telephone interviews statewide with 741 proven Democratic primary voters and 504 proven Republican primary voters, who said they voted early for the current primary election or planned to vote on or before June 5. (A larger number of Democrats were sampled because of the Journal Poll’s oversampling for the Democrat-only primary contest in the 1st Congressional District).
The margin of error for the sample of 741 Democratic voters on the Senate contest is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of 504 Republican voters in the Senate contest is 4.4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal