Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Republican Yvette Herrell and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small are separated by just 1 percentage point in the campaign to represent southern New Mexico in the U.S. House, according to a Journal Poll.
But Democrats hold substantial leads in the races for U.S. Senate and an Albuquerque-based congressional seat.
In the 2nd Congressional District, Herrell, a state representative from Alamogordo, had support from 46 percent of likely voters in the Journal Poll, conducted over the last week by Research & Polling Inc.
Torres Small, a water lawyer from Las Cruces, was at 45 percent, according to the scientific survey. Nine percent of likely voters said they were undecided.
National political groups have flooded the southern district with independent spending – and negative advertising – this year as both parties have seized on the contest as critical to determining which party controls Congress for the next two years.
“It’s extremely close,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling. “I think the deciding factor in this race will be which side is more successful in turning out their supporters on Election Day.”
Herrell and Torres Small are campaigning to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who opted to run for governor rather than seek re-election. Republicans have held the seat for all but two years since 1981, and President Donald Trump won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016.
But the party that controls the White House tends to lose seats at the midterm, Sanderoff said, and Torres Small is capitalizing on strong enthusiasm among the Democratic base.
The Democratic Party appears to be well-organized in the district, and Democrats are turning out at much higher levels than for the last midterm race four years ago, he said.
“Typically, Republican candidates have a tremendous advantage in this congressional district,” Sanderoff said. “But there’s a unique window here, where the mood of the state and nation and a strong Democratic candidate have made the race extremely close.”
The district is divided geographically by the Sacramento mountains. Republicans usually run up huge margins in Otero County and southeastern New Mexico, where the oil and gas industry is strong.
Las Cruces, where New Mexico State University is based, and counties to the west tend to favor Democrats.
That pattern is showing up this year, too.
Herrell leads by 32 percentage points on the east side of the district, according to the Journal Poll. Torres Small has a 19 point edge in Las Cruces and the west.
Herrell is campaigning as a conservative who will defend the Second Amendment and support Trump’s push to build a wall along the nation’s southern border, part of which is in the 2nd Congressional District.
Torres Small has been running as an independent Democrat in touch with the values of voters not just in Las Cruces, but also in the rural parts of the state.
Voters haven’t had a chance to see the candidates appear in a televised debate together, in contrast to the races in the 1st Congressional District and for the Senate. Torres Small agreed to three TV debates but Herrell wouldn’t participate, citing scheduling conflicts.
The 2nd Congressional District poll is based on a scientific sample of 413 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
Both cellphone numbers (76 percent) and landlines (24 percent) of likely general election voters were used.
1st Congressional District
In the Albuquerque area, Debra Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo and former state Democratic Party chairwoman, had support from 50 percent of likely voters in the 1st Congressional District, according to the Journal Poll.
Her closest competitor, Republican Janice Arnold-Jones, had support from 38 percent, and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton was at 5 percent.
Sanderoff said Haaland’s personal story appears to be resonating with voters, especially women. Haaland, whose parents served in the military, speaks about pushing through college and law school as a single mom and understanding the struggles of ordinary New Mexicans.
Arnold-Jones, a former state legislator and ex-city councilor, hasn’t had much outside help in the race, Sanderoff said, because Republicans have shifted their resources to contests they expect to be more competitive.
Democrats have held the 1st Congressional District seat for about 10 years. This year’s winner will succeed Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for governor.
“As the years pass, Albuquerque continues to move more in a Democratic direction,” Sanderoff said. “We’re seeing that here.”
The 1st Congressional District poll is based on a scientific sample of 419 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
Both cellphone numbers (68 percent) and landlines (32 percent) of likely general election voters were used.
Heinrich, facing his first re-election campaign, enjoys a big lead in an unusual three-way race that features former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Libertarian.
Heinrich was favored by 51 percent of likely voters, according to the poll, followed by Republican Mick Rich at 31 percent. Johnson trailed at 12 percent.
Heinrich’s opponents haven’t raised enough money to target him with the kind of negative ads that incumbents often face, Sanderoff said.
“Typically, a senator seeking his second term is still vulnerable politically,” Sanderoff said. “However, Martin Heinrich was very fortunate in having opponents who didn’t have the resources to run negative attack ads against him.”
Heinrich, in turn, is campaigning as “almost above the political fray,” with ads highlighting him as an outdoorsman and fighter for New Mexico’s national laboratories.
“He’s run a very nonpartisan campaign,” Sanderoff said.
The Senate poll is based on a scientific sample of 993 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
Both cellphone numbers (71 percent) and landlines (29 percent) of likely general election voters were used.
More on the poll
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific sample of likely general election voters, including newly registered voters who said they were very likely to vote in this year’s election.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.