Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The contest for the 2nd Congressional District has gotten national attention in a year in which the national and local voter mood could favor Democratic candidates, but posting a rare victory in a GOP-friendly district won’t be easy.
Forty-eight percent of proven, likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Herrell, a state lawmaker from Alamogordo, while 41 percent said they would vote for Torres Small, a water rights attorney from Las Cruces making her first bid for elected office.
The remaining voters were undecided or would not say who they planned to vote for this fall.
“This is an opportune time for a high-quality Democrat to take a shot at this seat,” said Brian Sanderoff, the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc., which conducted the poll.
However, he said that while Torres Small has created a buzz among state and national Democrats, Herrell is a strong candidate in her own right who has solid name recognition due to her four terms in the state House of Representatives.
And structural challenges exist for Democrats in the district, specifically the overwhelming Republican voter base in southeast New Mexico.
“She’s got an uphill battle because of the nature of the voting behavior in the district,” Sanderoff said of Torres Small.
Historically, the 2nd Congressional District seat has been held by a Republican for all but two years since 1981. The seat is open this year because incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce decided to forgo a re-election bid and instead run for governor
Both Herrell and Torres Small faced contested primary races in June, with Herrell, who has described herself as a “Trump conservative,” besting three GOP rivals and Torres Small defeating fellow Democrat Mad Hildebrandt.
With control of the U.S. House at stake in the November general election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a television ad last week targeting Herrell’s belated disclosure of lease income received by a family-owned real estate company.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also expected to launch campaign ads in the race, as the group recently added Herrell to its list of “young guns,” a designation given to candidates in competitive congressional seats.
Oil country advantage
The Journal Poll found little difference between male and female voters in a race featuring two women running for a seat that has only ever been held by a man.
Herrell had a significant lead among Anglo voters, while Hispanic voters were more likely to support Torres Small. The sample sizes for other racial groups were too small to report their results with accuracy.
The Journal Poll also broke down voter responses in the district by region. Those residing in the western part of the district – including in Las Cruces – were more likely to vote for Torres Small, while those in the eastern part were more likely to back Herrell.
However, the margin was much more decisive in the oil-rich east side of the district, which led to Herrell’s overall lead in the race.
“Even if Torres Small wins Las Cruces by a larger margin than a typical Democrat, the question becomes: ‘Can that offset the eastern part of the district?’ ” Sanderoff said.
Because of that trend, a key to a Torres Small’s electoral hopes would be a higher-than-usual turnout of Democrats – especially Latino voters – in southeastern New Mexico, Sanderoff added.
The 2nd Congressional District includes New Mexico’s borderland region and stretches north to encompass Valencia County. In addition to Las Cruces, it also includes Roswell, Grants, Hobbs, Carlsbad and Artesia.
About the poll
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 405 registered voters who cast ballots in the 2014 and 2016 general elections and said they were very 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 4.9 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 (74 percent) and landlines (26 percent) of proven general election voters were used.