By Dan Boyd / Journal Staff Writer
Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham has built a strong lead over Republican Janice Arnold-Jones in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District contest, but one in five voters is undecided, according to a Journal Poll.
Forty-six percent of the 1st District voters surveyed Sept. 3-6 on the race for the U.S. House seat said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, while 34 percent said they would vote for Arnold-Jones.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico’s two other U.S. House races, incumbent Reps. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, and Steve Pearce, a Republican, each led their challengers by sizable margins with nine weeks remaining before the Nov. 6 general election.
1st Congressional District
In the Albuquerque-based contest between Lujan Grisham and Arnold-Jones, about 20 percent of the likely voters said they were undecided or did not know whom they would vote for.
The undecided figure leaves hope for Arnold-Jones in a contest that does not have an incumbent, said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. The percentage of undecided voters was even higher among voters age 50 and younger.
“In a sense, these candidates are just now getting known,” Sanderoff said.
Since its creation in the late 1960s, the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, which now includes Bernalillo and Torrance Counties and slivers of several other counties, has historically favored Republicans.
However, Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich has held the seat since 2009, winning re-election in 2010 in a tough election year for Democrats. Heinrich is leaving the seat this year to seek, along with former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, the U.S. Senate seat opening up with the retirement of longtime Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
Lujan Grisham, a former state cabinet secretary for health and aging who recently stepped down as a Bernalillo County commissioner, tallied about 40 percent of the vote to win a three-way Democratic primary race earlier this year.
As of the end of June, she had raised nearly three times as much campaign cash as Arnold-Jones, a former state representative who was unopposed in the GOP primary.
To have a chance at defeating Lujan Grisham, Arnold-Jones will likely have to receive more financial backing from political action committees and other national groups, Sanderoff said.
“Janice Arnold-Jones would have to spend significant resources just to gain better name recognition,” he said.
While male voters surveyed in the 1st Congressional District were almost evenly split on whom they would vote for, Lujan Grisham had a 20 point advantage over Arnold-Jones – 49 percent to 29 percent – among female voters, the Journal Poll found.
Lujan Grisham has cast herself as an advocate for seniors and has made abortion rights and other women’s issues key parts of her campaign.
Arnold-Jones recently launched television advertisements that describe her as a champion for small businesses and government transparency.
Districts 2 and 3
In the state’s two other congressional districts, Pearce and Luján appear to be on track to keep their seats by fending off lesser-known challengers.
Luján, a Nambé resident who is seeking a third term representing the northern 3rd Congressional District, had 57 percent voter support from those polled compared to 31 percent for Republican Jeff Byrd, a Tucumcari rancher and businessman.
In the southern 2nd Congressional District, 56 percent of those polled said they would vote for Pearce while 30 percent said they would vote for Democratic candidate Evelyn Madrid Erhard of Las Cruces.
Incumbency is not the only advantage enjoyed by Pearce and Luján – their political affiliation also plays a role, Sanderoff noted. The 3rd Congressional District has traditionally favored Democrats, while the 2nd Congressional District has historically been dominated by Republicans.
“That’s often what you get when you have an incumbent running in a stronghold district,” Sanderoff said of the advantages held by Pearce and Luján.
Though Sanderoff said it would not be surprising for the challengers, Erhard and Byrd, to pick up a lion’s share of the undecided voters in their respective districts, that would not be enough to overturn the sizable leads mounted by by Pearce and Luján, according to the Journal Poll.
The district-wide survey results for the 1st Congressional District race have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The Journal Poll surveyed 409 likely voters in the district.
Survey results for the 2nd Congressional District race have a margin of error of plus or minus 9 percentage points with a scientific sample of 119 voters.
The margin of error for the 3rd Congressional District is 8.3 percentage points with a scientific sample of 139 voters.
Interviews were conducted Sept. 3-6 in each district by calling land lines and cellphones. Voters were asked whom they would support at the time of the poll.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal