Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

          Front Page

Journal Poll: Race for District 1 Seat Tight

By Colleen Heild
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          The 1st Congressional District race is a close one, with Republican Darren White and Democrat Martin Heinrich running nearly even for the open seat, a Journal Poll found.
        In interviews with likely voters, Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, was two points ahead of White, the Bernalillo County sheriff.

        Heinrich was backed by 43 percent of the registered, likely voters in the 1st Congressional District survey. White had 41 percent. Sixteen percent were undecided.
        The survey was conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 2 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points plus or minus. Heinrich's 2-point edge over White wasn't statistically significant, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, which conducted the poll.
        The two men are vying for a U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in the June primary election, losing to Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
        The contest pits the better-known White, a two-term sheriff and former head of the state Department of Public Safety, against Heinrich, a former City Council president who hasn't had the same kind of name recognition, Sanderoff said.
        Heinrich's showing in the poll suggests his strategy — primarily in advertising — of linking White to President Bush and his policies appears to be working, Sanderoff said.
        Republicans went for White 75 percent and for Heinrich 11 percent, while 65 percent of Democrats preferred Heinrich.
        White had the support of 18 percent of Democrats — indicating that "Republicans are more likely to be committed to Darren White than Democrats are to Heinrich," Sanderoff said.
        Independent voters favored Heinrich over White 47 percent to 31 percent. Twenty-two percent of independent voters were undecided.
        "Why is Martin Heinrich doing well?" Sanderoff asked. "It's because the independents are breaking his way. And the independents' (backing) is more due to the mood of the state and nation."
        White has emphasized his public service and law-and-order background, while Heinrich has hammered White on his past support of Bush. Heinrich is also pressing White to reimburse local law enforcement that provided security for a Bush fundraiser held for White's campaign in Albuquerque.
        White was state chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign in New Mexico.
        White easily won the Republican nomination over state Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque in the June primary election and has been a "proven vote-getter as a Republican and a proven winner as a Republican in Bernalillo County," Sanderoff said.
        Had the election been held three or four months ago, Sanderoff said, "I assume ... Darren White would have had a comfortable lead because he was just better-known."
        But White is "running in a very difficult year for Republicans," Sanderoff said. Voters are focused more on the economy right now, rather than national security and terrorism — issues that usually favor Republicans and "even more so a law-and-order kind of guy" like White.
        Although Heinrich had the support of 51 percent of Hispanics polled, White was favored by 32 percent, with 17 percent undecided or who wouldn't say.
        Given that most Hispanics in New Mexico are traditionally Democratic voters,
        Sanderoff said, "Darren White, as a Republican, is getting an impressive share of the Hispanic vote."
        Wilson, who is in her fifth term of office, had that "same curve" of Hispanic vote "and that's why she would always win, because she picked up her fair share of Hispanics," Sanderoff said.
        The poll showed that Heinrich had 38 percent support among Anglo voters, with 47 percent favoring White and 15 percent undecided or wouldn't say.
        In June, Heinrich emerged as winner of the Democratic nomination, defeating three other candidates. After serving one term on the city council, Heinrich was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to serve as state Natural Resources Trustee and has taken a leave without pay from that position to run for office.
        The poll indicated that Heinrich appealed to people who have postgraduate college education by a 2-1 ratio over White, Sanderoff said. White is doing better among those with college degrees.
        The seat has never been held by a Democrat since its creation in 1968. Wilson and her predecessors, Steve Schiff and Manuel Lujan Jr., never lost an election.
        Yet, more than 90 percent of the district is in Bernalillo County, which has been Democratic-leaning for a number of election cycles, Sanderoff said.
        That, coupled with the mood of the state and the country, "is what's keeping this race competitive."
        "Political coattails ... are important for a congressional race," Sanderoff said. "Darren White's fortunes will probably rise and fall with John McCain's."