Democrat Martin Heinrich has a lead over Republican Heather Wilson in the race for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat, but Wilson remains competitive, with significant support from traditional Republican strongholds and independents.
Forty-nine percent of likely New Mexico voters said they would vote for Heinrich, who has represented the central New Mexico 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House since Wilson left the seat in 2009.
The Sept. 3-6 Journal Poll found Wilson with 42 percent of the voter support in the statewide survey.
Eight percent of the voters said they were undecided, with roughly nine weeks remaining before the Nov. 6 election. The current congressman and former congresswoman are vying for the seat of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who is retiring after 30 years.
The margin of error for the full voter sample for the Senate race is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
“I feel Heinrich does have a comfortable lead, but Heinrich cannot take this race for granted by any stretch of the imagination,” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff.
Wilson’s path forward will lean heavily on independent voters, or those who decline to state a party affiliation when they register. Fifty-three percent of the independents (and a few respondents affiliated with minor parties) backed Wilson, noted Sanderoff, who said her strength among independents was surprising considering the margin between the candidates in the poll overall.
While 37 percent of independents prefer Heinrich, 10 percent remain undecided, according to the poll.
“She’s not trying to run as the archconservative against an archliberal; she’s trying to run as the independent voice against someone she portrays as an archliberal, and so that is a message that may resonate among independents, as is evidenced by her current lead among them,” Sanderoff said.
Wilson drew 17 percent support among registered Democrats, while 15 percent of the Republicans said they would vote for Heinrich.
But Sanderoff said the crossover vote takes more of a toll on Wilson because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans statewide. Wilson needs to add more Democrats to her Republican column to win.
“That’s why Heather is down by 7 (percentage points) – the fact that normally the Republicans pull more D’s,” he said.
“Wilson still has the potential to not only try to pick up some more D’s, but also to get some of those R’s to come back home by painting Heinrich as too liberal for a Republican,” Sanderoff said.
Breaking it down
Heinrich’s strongest base of support is among Hispanic voters, according to the Journal Poll. Sixty percent of surveyed voters identifying themselves as Hispanic said they would back Heinrich. Thirty percent of the Hispanics said they preferred Wilson.
That lead comes as Heinrich’s campaign has targeted the state’s Hispanics in part through a series of Spanish-language TV and radio ads.
Wilson typically performs better among Hispanics than many Republicans, Sanderoff said. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, is drawing only 26 percent of Hispanic voter support in New Mexico, the Journal Poll found.
In the Senate race, 10 percent of Hispanic voters said they were undecided.
Wilson led Heinrich among Anglo voters, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Heinrich had 9-point advantage, 51-42, in the Albuquerque area, which they have both represented in Congress.
Wilson had strong support in the traditional Republican-leaning northwestern part of the state and in eastern New Mexico, while Heinrich rolled up a big advantage in the heavily Hispanic north-central section.
While Wilson had 51 percent support among voters who reported having college degrees, voters with higher levels of education, such as graduate degrees, favored Heinrich 65 percent to 34 percent.
The Associated Press reported in late August that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was withholding about $3 million in New Mexico campaign advertising on behalf of Wilson to shift the money to more competitive Senate races in other states.
However, Sanderoff said Wilson’s ongoing support from super PACs and other political groups means she will apparently still be able to afford a heavy advertising campaign against Heinrich as she attempts to narrow his lead.
“It’s significant, but it’s not a death blow,” Sanderoff said of the canceled Republican Party advertising support.
The Journal Poll on the Senate race was conducted by Research and Polling Inc. of Albuquerque and is based on cellphone and land line telephone interviews conducted statewide from Sept. 3 to Sept. 6. The margin of error for the full, statewide sample in the Journal Poll is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal