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Journal Poll: Wilson Widens Her Lead

By Michael Coleman
Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Washington Bureau
    Incumbents lead the challengers in all three New Mexico congressional races, and Republican Rep. Heather Wilson has widened her once-narrow lead over Democratic challenger Richard Romero, according to a Journal poll.
    Wilson, vying for her fourth term representing New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, had the support of 51 percent of the voters compared to 43 percent for Romero, a state Senate leader and retired Albuquerque schools administrator.
    Six percent of 1st District voters were undecided, according the Journal poll, conducted last Tuesday through Friday. In a previous Journal poll published Oct. 5, Wilson held just a one point lead over Romero.
    In the southern 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican seeking his second term, led Democratic challenger Gary King of Carlsbad 50 percent to 38 percent. Twelve percent were undecided.
    In northern New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat seeking his fourth term, led Republican challenger Gregory Tucker of Farmington 63 percent to 28 percent with 9 percent undecided.
    The 1st District poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The 2nd and 3rd District polls each had an error margin of plus or minus 6 percentage points.
    In Albuquerque, Wilson is trying to fend off Romero's second consecutive challenge. The congresswoman was first elected to the House in 1998.
    "A month ago, this race was deadlocked," said Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the polls. "She has rebuilt her lead over the past month."
    Sanderoff said Wilson appears to have effectively defined herself as a moderate congresswoman, despite Democratic attempts to convince voters she is a right-wing conservative who is out of touch with the moderate political landscape of the district.
    "Breaking with Republican leadership (on some issues) hasn't hurt her with the Republican base and has allowed her to have nearly one-fourth of support among Democrats," Sanderoff said.
    Wilson had the support of 90 percent of Republican voters polled, and 23 percent support among Democrats. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats responding to the poll said they would support Romero, while just 5 percent of Republicans professed support for him.
    Wilson also garnered 37 percent support among Hispanics in the poll, while Romero had 57 percent, according to the poll.
    "Wilson had always had her share of Hispanic support and has worked hard to retain it," Sanderoff said.
    Romero performed well among younger voters, with 56 percent of poll respondents ages 18-34 professing support for him. Thirty-four percent of these young voters voiced support for Wilson.
    Wilson performed best among voters who are college graduates. Fifty-eight percent of these voters supported Wilson, while 38 percent supported Romero.
    Sanderoff noted that the Wilson-Romero race has been dominated by hard-hitting, negative television advertising. He said a Romero ad that featured a picture of Osama bin Laden and described Wilson as doing "a favor to terrorists" for voting against an air cargo security measure could have backfired on him.
    Wilson countered with ads that accused Romero of being irresponsible in his criticism.
    "Perhaps Wilson has done a good job of characterizing Romero as over-the-top," Sanderoff said.
    In the 2nd District, Pearce had the support of 84 percent of Republican survey respondents, while 24 percent of Democrats said they would vote for him. Sixty-six percent of Democratic poll respondents said they support King, as opposed to only 5 percent of Republicans.
    "Pearce is a conservative representing a conservative district and he has an effective lead," Sanderoff said.
    King polled well among Hispanics, 63 percent of whom said they supported him. Nineteen percent of Hispanics polled said they would vote for Pearce.
    In the 3rd District, Udall led in every voter category except Republican. The congressman even held a lead over Tucker among self-professed "conservatives," with 46 percent of those voters saying they would support him compared to 43 percent for Tucker.
    Tucker had the support of 64 percent of Republicans, compared to 30 percent for Udall.
    "The good news for Tucker is that he has pulled ahead among Republicans. The bad news is there aren't many Republicans in the district," Sanderoff said.
    Democrats make up 55 percent of registered voters in the 3rd District compared to only 28 percent Republican, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office.