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Independents Boosting Heinrich Bid

By Dan Boyd
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Solid support among Democratic and independent voters helped Rep. Martin Heinrich keep a lead over Republican challenger Jon Barela in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District race, a new Journal Poll found.
        However, the poll also found that 1st District voters who cast ballots in both the 2006 and 2008 general elections — making them the most likely of all to vote on the U.S. House seat this year — were almost evenly split on the candidates. Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said that could be good news for Barela in this nonpresidential election year.
        With Democrats making up 48 percent of all registered voters in the 1st District, and Republicans 32 percent, Heinrich would have an advantage in a high turnout election. But turnout is typically lower in midterm election years, like this one, than it is in presidential years, such as when Heinrich first was elected in 2008.
        Sanderoff said Democrats across the country are suffering from an enthusiasm gap this year, with Republicans and conservatives seeming more motivated and interested in voting.
        "If the turnout is really low, this gap could narrow," Sanderoff said. "The higher the turnout, the better it is for Heinrich. The lower the turnout, the better it is for Barela."
        Heinrich, the first-term incumbent who was the first Democrat to win the Albuquerque-based congressional district, had 48 percent support in the new Journal Poll, compared with 41 percent for Barela.
        Eleven percent of registered, likely voters surveyed in the district Sept. 27-30 were undecided or wouldn't say who they would support. Voters were asked who they would vote for if the election were held on that day.
        Among independent voters surveyed, Heinrich had 51 percent support while Barela had 38 percent.
        That result is positive for Heinrich and, with many voters around the country hostile to incumbents this year, goes against a national trend, Sanderoff said.
        "He's doing quite well with independents, who seem to be flirting with Republicans nationwide," Sanderoff said.
        At the same time, among those voters who participated in both the 2006 and 2008 general elections, 44 percent said they would vote for Heinrich and a matching 44 percent said they would vote for Barela.
        The overall Journal Poll results are similar to those of a Journal Poll from late August, which found Heinrich had 47 percent support to Barela's 41 percent and 12 percent undecided.
        While a month remains before the Nov. 2 general election, Sanderoff said voters still might be getting to know Barela, an Albuquerque businessman and lawyer.
        In speeches and a debate, the candidates have already clashed over government spending, immigration and health care issues.
        Both have also aired campaign ads, with Barela linking Heinrich to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Heinrich linking Barela to former President George W. Bush.
        "The ads seem to be offsetting each other," Sanderoff said.
        Heinrich received more support in the Journal Poll from both male and female voters than did Barela, and younger voters were significantly more likely to support Heinrich.
        Voters between the ages of 18 and 34 were nearly twice as likely to support Heinrich than Barela, with 59 percent of those voters surveyed saying they would vote for Heinrich compared with 31 percent for Barela.
        However, Barela matched Heinrich's support among voters age 65 and older.
        Fifty-one percent of Anglo voters surveyed for the Journal Poll favored Barela, while 41 percent of Anglo voters supported Heinrich. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Hispanic voters supported Heinrich compared with 22 percent of Hispanic voters for Barela.
        As an incumbent seeking re-election to Congress for the first time, Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, still has to prove himself to voters, Sanderoff said.
        "He's in people's minds, but not in their hearts yet," Sanderoff said.
        Sanderoff said that for Heinrich to maintain his lead — and secure victory on Election Day — he needs to increase Democratic voter turnout.
        Seventy-six percent of Democratic voters polled said they would vote for Heinrich, while 12 percent of Democrats said they would support Barela. Among Republican voters surveyed, 83 percent said they would vote for Barela and 9 percent backed Heinrich.
        With voter turnout potentially playing a key role, Sanderoff said Barela also needs to make sure his backers go to the polls and cast ballots.
        "What he has to do is surgically identify his supporters and get them to the polls," Sanderoff said.
        The Journal Poll is based on telephone interviews with 403 registered, likely voters in the 1st Congressional District. The interviews were conducted districtwide from Sept. 27-30 by Research & Polling Inc. The margin of error for the scientific sample of 403 voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.

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