In an unusual three-way race, Democrat Martin Heinrich has grabbed a substantial lead in his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate, placing him well ahead of two challengers, according to a Journal Poll.
His closest competitor was Republican Mick Rich, an Albuquerque contractor who has never held office before. In third place is former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Taos Libertarian well-known to New Mexico voters.
Heinrich had support from 47 percent of proven, likely voters in the telephone survey, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. Rich had support from 26 percent of those surveyed, and Johnson was at 16 percent.
It’s the first Senate re-election campaign for Heinrich, who also served in the U.S. House and on the Albuquerque City Council.
“I think Heinrich is benefiting from having two candidates in the race rather than one,” Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling, said in an interview Saturday. “Johnson and Rich are splitting the conservative vote.”
Among voters who identified as conservative, Rich had support from 55 percent. Heinrich had support from 82 percent of liberal voters.
Altogether, Rich was in second place, according to the Journal Poll, even though he isn’t as widely known as Johnson, who served two terms as New Mexico governor, from 1995 to 2002, as a Republican.
Since then, Johnson has run twice for president as a Libertarian.
“Some people always stick with their party,” Sanderoff said. “Although Mick Rich is not well-known among Republican voters, he picks up a lot of their support by virtue of the party label.”
Johnson, in turn, shows strength among voters who aren’t Democrats or Republicans. He had support among 37 percent of that group, about seven points ahead of Heinrich, who was second.
Heinrich led the three-candidate field among both Hispanic and Anglo voters. The sample sizes for other racial groups were too small to report their results with accuracy.
Heinrich also has an enormous financial edge. He reported nearly $4 million in cash on hand through June 30, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Rich reported about $198,000.
Johnson entered the race in August, well after the reporting deadline, but his campaign said three weeks ago that he had pumped at least $100,000 of his own money into the race.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 966 registered voters who cast ballots in both the 2014 and 2016 general elections and said they were likely to vote in this year’s election.
The poll was conducted Sept. 7-13. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (69 percent) and landlines (31 percent) of proven general election voters were used.
Heinrich, 46, first won election to the Senate in 2012, succeeding Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
He’s New Mexico’s junior member of the U.S. Senate. Tom Udall, also a Democrat, won election to the Senate in 2008 and was re-elected in 2014.