Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell are locked in another tight race – separated by just 2 percentage points – as they face off in one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country, according to a new Journal Poll.
Torres Small, who won the traditionally Republican seat in 2018, had support from 47% of likely voters surveyed in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers the southern half of New Mexico.
Herrell, a former state representative from Alamogordo, was favored by 45% of those surveyed. The remainder said they were undecided, didn’t know or wouldn’t say which candidate they would vote for.
“Approximately 60 days out, this race is too close to call,” Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the survey, said in an interview.
In the state’s two other congressional races, the Journal Poll found that Democrats held substantial leads: a 27-point edge for incumbent Deb Haaland in the 1st Congressional District and a 15-point lead for Teresa Leger Fernandez in the 3rd Congressional District.
New Mexico’s 2nd District has emerged as a priority for Republicans this cycle. Until 2018, Republicans had held the seat for all but two years since 1981.
“It’s no surprise to me or anyone else,” Sanderoff said, “that this is one of the most competitive races in the nation.”
Torres Small, a water rights lawyer from Las Cruces, defeated Herrell by less than 2 percentage points to win the district in 2018, when Democrats swept every congressional and statewide race in New Mexico.
She prevailed even as Republican Donald Trump won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016. But the Journal Poll showed Trump with just a 4-point edge in the district this time.
Hispanic voters are a source of strength for Torres Small – 62% of them said they would vote for her, a 32-point advantage over Herrell, according to the Journal Poll. Herrell, in turn, had a 15-point edge among Anglo voters.
The expansive district borders Texas, Arizona and Mexico – roughly divided by the Sacramento Mountains.
Herrell enjoyed strong support in the eastern part of the district, which includes the energy-producing Permian Basin. She had support from 61% of voters on the district’s east side, or 30 points more than Torres Small.
The Democratic incumbent had an advantage in the western part of the district, including Las Cruces, home to New Mexico State University. The poll found that 57% of likely voters on the west side supported Torres Small to 34% for Herrell.
Sanderoff noted that Torres Small’s 2-point advantage overall is well within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points for the poll.
“It’s anyone’s race,” Sanderoff said.
Respondents to the survey were asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today.
Albuquerque turns blue
Haaland, a former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, was favored by 58% of likely voters in the 1st Congressional District, covering much of central New Mexico.
Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes, a retired police detective, had support from 31% of those surveyed.
Sanderoff said Haaland’s lead comes after she won the district by 23 percentage points in 2018.
“She enjoys a larger lead now that she’s had two years of incumbency under her belt,” Sanderoff said, “running against a good candidate with some name recognition, but not a household name.”
He noted that the 1st Congressional District was once held by Republicans but flipped in 2008 and never went back. As Albuquerque has grown and become more urban, Sanderoff said, it has started to behave politically more like a big city.
“Albuquerque over the decades continues to turn blue,” Sanderoff said.
Leger Fernandez carried a sizable lead over Republican Alexis Johnson in the race to succeed Ben Ray Luján in the 3rd Congressional District. Luján, a Democrat, is vacating the seat to run for the Senate.
The Journal Poll showed 50% of likely voters in the district say they would vote for Leger Fernandez, an attorney from Santa Fe.
Johnson, who is retired but used to work as an environmental engineer for oil producers, had support from 35% of those surveyed.
Of those surveyed, 14% said they were undecided or didn’t know whom they would vote for.
The district includes the Democratic strongholds of Santa Fe, Española, Taos and Las Vegas. Democrats have held the seat for 22 years.
Leger Fernandez “is not a household name yet among the general election population,” Sanderoff said, “but she’s doing really well.”
Whoever wins the district will help give New Mexico an all-female delegation in the U.S. House. Each of the major-party candidates in all three races is a woman.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific sample of likely general election voters who also voted in either the 2016 and 2018 general elections – or both.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2.
In the 2nd Congressional District, the poll sampled 418 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
In the 1st Congressional District, the poll sampled 404 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
In the 3rd Congressional District, the poll sampled 301 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 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 and landlines of likely general election voters were used.