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Heinrich Edging Out White

By Colleen Heild And Dan Boyd
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writers

          Democrat Martin Heinrich appeared to have a slight edge over Republican Darren White in the final full week of the hard-fought general election campaign for the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District seat the GOP has held for decades, a Journal Poll found.
        Heinrich's four-point advantage wasn't statistically significant, given a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points in the survey conducted Oct. 28-Oct. 30 of registered voters who said they had voted or were likely to vote.

        But Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. of Albuquerque that conducted the poll, said Heinrich's solid showing can be attributed in part to the Democratic winds of change that appear to be sweeping the state and the nation.
        Other Journal surveys during the same period last week showed Democrat Harry Teague appeared to have a slight edge over Republican Ed Tinsley in the 2nd Congressional District race in southern New Mexico, while up north Democrat Ben Ray Luján had the lead in a three-way race with Republican Dan East and independent Carol Miller for the 3rd District seat.
        It's an unusual New Mexico election in that no incumbent is running for the U.S. House. All three incumbents gave up their seats to run for the U.S. Senate. Veteran GOP Sen. Pete Domenici is retiring in January.
        The race remained tight, although Heinrich's four-point edge over White was a two-point improvement for the Democrat compared with the last Journal Poll four weeks ago.
        "What's happening here is Darren White is doing well among Republicans and he's even pulling off a fifth of the Democrats, which a Republican needs to do in order to have a chance of winning," Sanderoff said.
        But Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, had the slight edge because he was ahead among independents, Sanderoff said.
        And there are more Democrats than Republicans in the district, which includes Bernalillo County, Torrance County and parts of Valencia, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.
        But no Democrat has won the seat in its 40-year history. Incumbent GOP Rep. Heather Wilson vacated the seat in her bid to succeed Domenici but lost in the primary.
        "A large proportion of the independents and the Hispanics are still undecided, and they will determine the outcome of the race," Sanderoff said of the Heinrich-White contest.
        Heinrich was the choice of 44 percent of independents, with 30 percent for White, who is in his second term as Bernalillo County sheriff. Twenty-six percent of independents surveyed were undecided. Fifty-four percent of Hispanics favored Heinrich, with 29 percent for White. Seventeen percent of Hispanics said they were undecided.
        Heinrich was the choice of 73 percent of Democrats, compared to 20 percent for White and 7 percent undecided.

        Among Republicans, White had 81 percent with 12 percent favoring Heinrich and 7 percent undecided.
        Heinrich tended to appeal most to those who had a high school diploma or less and those with a graduate degree or who had done some graduate work. Heinrich was also the choice of 49 percent of moderates, compared with 37 percent for White, and 15 percent undecided.
        White had the advantage among those ages 35 to 49 — 52 percent compared with 36 percent for Heinrich — and with those who had some college or were college graduates.
        In the conservative southern district that stretches from the Arizona border to Texas, Teague had a 45 percent to 41 percent edge over Tinsley with 14 percent undecided.
        Teague's overall four-point advantage wasn't statistically significant, given the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
        But Sanderoff said Teague was holding his own on the traditionally conservative east side and doing well on the more-liberal west side.
        Forty-five percent of eastsiders supported Tinsley, with 43 percent for Teague and 12 percent undecided. On the west side, Teague had 47 percent compared to 38 percent for Tinsley, with 16 percent undecided.
        "It's surprising to me because this district is a very conservative district which the Republicans have held since 1980," Sanderoff said. Most recently, Steve Pearce held the seat but is vacating it to run to succeed Domenici.
        For the first time in recent history, the race pits two eastside candidates, Sanderoff said.
        Teague, a former Lea County commissioner, is from Hobbs, and restaurateur Tinsley has a ranch in Capitan.
        Among Democrats, 77 percent preferred Teague with 13 percent for Tinsley and 10 percent undecided. Republicans went for Tinsley 79 percent to 9 percent for Teague. Independents split almost equally.
        Teague, considered a conservative Democrat, had a slight edge overall because there are more registered Democrats in the district than Republicans, Sanderoff said.

        Thirty-one percent of independents surveyed still hadn't made up their mind, the poll showed.
        Other findings: Tinsley appealed most to the 35-49 year olds surveyed, and was doing best among college graduates. Among Hispanics, Teague had a 3 to 1 lead, and Tinsley had a comfortable advantage among Anglos. Nineteen percent of Hispanics surveyed were still undecided.
        The Democrat-leaning district appears to be holding strong again for the party.
        Luján received more than double the support of either East or Miller, out front among both men and women, Hispanics and Anglos and across all age groups surveyed.
        The poll also showed a commanding lead for Luján among both liberals and moderates, Sanderoff said.
        More than half of the likely voters surveyed — a total of 51 percent — said they backed Luján. East received the support of 23 percent, while Miller had 12 percent.
        Luján, a member of the Public Regulation Commission from Santa Fe, even made a strong showing among self-described conservatives, with 27 percent saying they would or have already voted for him.
        East, a Rio Rancho contractor, and Miller, a health care consultant from Ojo Sarco, have been unable to keep pace with Luján's political fundraising.
        And while all three candidates have touted the need for change in Washington D.C., East and Miller have both struggled with a lack of name recognition, Sanderoff said. The Luján name is widely known in northern New Mexico as Luján's father is House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe.
        However, none of the three candidates are particularly well-known, Sanderoff said.
        The seat was occupied by current Gov. Bill Richardson from 1983 to 1997. More recently, Democrat Tom Udall has held the seat since 1999, but is stepping down to run for U.S. Senate to succeed Domenici.