SANTA FE – Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján has maintained his advantage over Republican Mark Ronchetti in the race for a rare open U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico, a new Journal Poll found.
With Election Day near, 52% of likely general election voters surveyed said they planned to or had already voted for Luján, a six-term congressman from a prominent northern New Mexico political family.
Ronchetti, a former Albuquerque television meteorologist making his first run for elected office, got the support of 44% of voters surveyed while Libertarian candidate Bob Walsh trailed far behind the two front-runners.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said the difference between the recent poll and a previous poll conducted before Labor Day, which showed Luján with a 49%-40% edge over Ronchetti, is that most undecided voters have made up their minds.
“Ben Ray Luján has a similar lead over Mark Ronchetti as in the last Journal Poll, but the undecideds have evaporated,” said Sanderoff, who is the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc.
He also said Luján eclipsing the 50% voter support threshold was significant, especially since many New Mexico voters have already cast ballots via absentee and early voting.
Like other New Mexico Democrats, Luján is drawing broad support among female and Hispanic voters, the new Journal Poll found.
While Anglo voters were slightly more likely to support Ronchetti than Luján, a total of 60% of Hispanic voters surveyed said they planned to vote for the Democratic candidate. In contrast, 35% of Hispanic voters said they supported Ronchetti.
“He’s run a good race for a first-time candidate, but he’s got an uphill political battle,” Sanderoff said of Ronchetti, while also noting the GOP candidate’s name recognition from his television background.
If elected, Luján, 48, would become New Mexico’s first Hispanic U.S. senator since Joseph Montoya in 1977.
For his part, Ronchetti, 47, would be the first Republican elected by state voters to the U.S. Senate since Pete Domenici was elected to his sixth and final six-year term in 2002.
This year’s race does not feature an incumbent, as Democrat Tom Udall announced in March 2019 he would not seek reelection.
While the Journal Poll found little difference in voter preference based on age, there was a split by education level.
New Mexico voters with college or graduate school degrees were more likely to support Luján than voters with high school diplomas or only some college credits, who narrowly favored Ronchetti over his Democratic opponent.
That trend has also played out in other races, including the presidential contest between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, Luján had a commanding lead over Ronchetti in both north central New Mexico and the Albuquerque metro area, while Ronchetti was getting broad voter support among voters in northwest New Mexico and on the state’s east side.
The two leading candidates in this year’s U.S. Senate race have clashed in three televised debates in the run-up to Election Day.
They’ve also both launched hard-hitting television advertisements focused on health care access, crime and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luján, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary election, has raised more than $8.4 million for his campaign and already spent roughly $7.8 million, according to recent campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Ronchetti, who won a three-way GOP primary in June, has reported raising nearly $3.5 million and spending about $2.8 million.
Several outside groups have also spent hefty sums in the race, including a National Association of Realtors political committee that has reported spending nearly $460,000 on Luján’s behalf.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 1,180 likely general election voters who also voted in either the 2016 and 2018 general elections – or both. It also includes newly registered voters who said they were very likely to vote in the 2020 general election.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 23 through Oct. 29. 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 (81%) and landlines (19%) of likely general election voters were used.