Journal Poll: ‘Extremely close’ race for 2nd Congressional District

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Republican Yvette Herrell holds a small, fragile lead over Democrat Xochitl Torres Small as they close out one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country, according to a Journal Poll.

Herrell’s edge is well within the survey’s margin of error.

By contrast, Democrats are running up substantial leads in New Mexico’s two other congressional races, according to the Journal Poll.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Herrell leads Torres Small by 2 percentage points – fueled by heavy support among conservatives and voters from southeastern New Mexico, according to the scientific survey, conducted by Research & Polling Inc.

“What it comes down to is turnout,” pollster Brian Sanderoff said Friday. “This race is obviously extremely close. The side that’s able to turn out its supporters at higher rates will win.”

Herrell picked up support from 48% of likely voters in the 2nd Congressional District, while Torres Small was favored by 46%. The remainder were undecided, didn’t know or said they wouldn’t vote for either.

The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.

The tight race comes just two years after Torres Small, a water lawyer from Las Cruces, narrowly defeated Herrell, a former state legislator from Alamogordo, in 2018 to win the traditionally Republican district, where support for President Trump is strong.

In the 1st Congressional District, Democrat Deb Haaland, the first-term incumbent, is ahead by 21 points in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District.

In the open race to represent northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe carries a 23 point lead.

But the rematch of Herrell and Torres Small is the race attracting national attention and a barrage of negative advertising. Trump won the 2nd Congressional District by 10 points in 2016 and Republicans view it as prime pickup opportunity this year.

“Two years ago,” Sanderoff said, “Xochitl Torres Small was able to win by the slimmest of margins during a Democratic wave. Now, we’re back to a presidential election cycle where the conservatives are energized, as well as the liberals. That wasn’t the case two years ago.”

Torres Small took the seat by less than 2 points in the 2018 election, becoming just the second Democrat to hold the seat in 40 years.

She had a 2 point lead over Herrell in a Journal Poll conducted about two months ago.

The 2nd Congressional District covers the southern half of New Mexico, including the oil-rich southeastern corner of the state; Las Cruces, home to New Mexico State University; and communities along the border with Mexico.

Herrell, who served for eight years in the state House, has deep support in the east side of the district, covering Alamogordo, Hobbs and Carlsbad. The poll shows support for Herrell from 61% of voters in that part of the district, or 27 points higher than support for Torres Small.

By contrast, the Democratic incumbent is favored on the west side of the district, an area that includes Las Cruces and Silver City. Torres Small is supported by 54% of voters in that area, beating Herrell by 13 points.

Among voters who identify as conservative, 72% favor Herrell.

Torres Small is favored by 61% of moderates and 72% of liberals.

Haaland leads in reelection bid

Haaland, a former chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, has a substantial lead over Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes, a retired police detective, in the 1st Congressional District.

Haaland is seeking reelection for the first time since becoming one of the first Native American women elected to Congress. She is a member of Laguna Pueblo.

Haaland had support from 58% of voters in the Journal Poll, while Garcia Holmes was favored by 37%.

“The 1st Congressional District, over the last decade, has continued to trend more Democratic, more blue,” Sanderoff said. “Haaland two years ago won by more than 20 points, and she has that lead again.”

Leger Fernandez ahead by 23 points

Leger Fernandez, a lawyer, has a big lead in the race to represent the 3rd Congressional District, where she faces Republican Alexis Johnson, a retired environmental engineer.

Leger Fernandez had support from 58% of those surveyed, to 35% for Johnson.

The seat is open because Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Luján is running for the Senate after 12 years in the House. With Luján’s departure, New Mexico is set to have an all-female delegation to the House.

Democrats have held the 3rd Congressional District for 22 years. The district includes Santa Fe, Española, Taos and Las Vegas – all Democratic strongholds – but also part of the state’s conservative east side.

Based on a scientific sample

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 – in addition to people who registered to vote after the 2018 election.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 23 to Oct. 29.

In the 2nd Congressional District, the poll sampled 403 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

In the 1st Congressional District, the poll sampled 430 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

In the 3rd Congressional District, the poll sampled 347 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 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 (between 80% and 82%) and landlines of likely general election voters were used.

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