Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – In the race for a rare open U.S. Senate seat, Democrat Ben Ray Luján has a lead over Republican Mark Ronchetti entering the general election homestretch, a new Journal Poll found.
Among likely voters surveyed in the recent poll, 49% said they would vote for Luján while 40% said they would vote for Ronchetti.
Libertarian candidate Bob Walsh trailed far behind in the three-way race, with 4%, while roughly 8% of voters said they had not decided whom to vote for.
“Ben Ray Luján has a comfortable lead, but he’s not at the 50% mark that helps candidates sleep better at night,” said Brian Sanderoff of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.
Luján, the son of former House Speaker Ben Luján, who died in 2012, has held the state’s northern New Mexico-based 3rd Congressional District seat since 2009.
But he announced last year he would forego a re-election bid in order to run for the seat held by fellow Democrat Tom Udall, who is stepping down when his term expires.
Ronchetti, a former KRQE-TV meteorologist, is a political newcomer who easily won a three-way GOP primary race in June.
The fact that the Republican nominee is a well-known face to many New Mexicans and is comfortable in front of a television camera could be an asset in this year’s race, Sanderoff said.
Luján also has ample name recognition from his tenure in Congress. As assistant U.S. House speaker, he is currently the highest-ranking Hispanic member of Congress.
However, this year’s Senate contest marks his first statewide race, and Luján may not be as well known in some parts of New Mexico, Sanderoff said.
Luján, who lives in Nambé, had a commanding advantage in the Journal Poll over Ronchetti in the state’s north central region, which is included in his current congressional district.
But he also had a sizable edge – 20 percentage points – among likely voters in the Albuquerque metro area, where Ronchetti lives.
For his part, Ronchetti had greater support than Luján in northwest New Mexico and in the state’s eastern region, though that backing was not enough to offset his rival’s support in the more highly populated Rio Grande corridor.
GOP winless since 2002
While Ronchetti is running as an outsider who would bring a pragmatic perspective to Washington, D.C., Sanderoff said he may be linked to President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, in many voters’ minds.
“The top of the ticket has a significant impact on down-ballot races like this one,” Sanderoff said.
While independent voters were almost evenly split between Luján and Ronchetti in the Journal Poll, self-described moderates broke for Luján by a ration of more than 2-to-1.
Hispanic voters were also much more likely to support Luján than they were his Republican opponent, as 59% of Hispanic voters said they would vote for the six-term congressman, and 31% indicated they planned to vote for Ronchetti.
Anglo voters were more narrowly divided, with Ronchetti narrowly outpacing Luján among such voters, according to the Journal Poll.
While both Ronchetti and Luján have recently launched television ads, Luján has a significant fundraising advantage over his opponents.
Specifically, Luján, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, had raised more than $6.3 million for his Senate campaign as of June, and spent nearly $3.4 million. Ronchetti, for his part, had raised nearly $1.4 million and spent about $815,000.
It’s also unclear whether national Republican-leaning groups will spend money in the race in an attempt to bolster Ronchetti’s campaign, as a GOP candidate has not won a Senate race in New Mexico since the late Pete Domenici did so in 2002.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 1,123 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. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 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 (73%) and landlines (27%) of likely general election voters were used.