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Poll: Pearce Ahead

By Jeff Jones
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    Steve Pearce had the edge over Heather Wilson among New Mexico Republicans in the final week of a hard-fought battle for the U.S. Senate nomination, a Journal Poll found.
    Pearce, who represents the 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico, had the backing of 45 percent of likely Republican primary voters statewide.
    Wilson, who represents the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, had 39 percent.
    Sixteen percent of the likely Republican voters surveyed statewide May 27-29 said they were undecided. Results of the telephone survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
    "Pearce's message of being the consistent conservative appears to have worked," said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. in Albuquerque.
    The Senate race polling was completed just before longtime GOP Sen. Pete Domenici, who for 36 years has held the seat Pearce and Wilson are seeking, suddenly disclosed his endorsement of Wilson. Domenici has often been identified as Wilson's political mentor, but he had vowed to stay neutral in the primary election.
    While the Journal Poll numbers showed Pearce with an advantage, the Domenici endorsement of Wilson "could have some impact," Sanderoff said.
    "I never underestimate the popularity of Pete Domenici," Sanderoff said. "And I've learned to never underestimate Wilson."
    The winner of the Republican nomination in Tuesday's primary election will face Democratic Rep. Tom Udall of the 3rd Congressional District in the general election. Udall is unopposed on the Democratic side of the Tuesday ballot.
    Pearce and Wilson are giving up their U.S. House seats to seek the nomination to replace Domenici. The 76-year-old senator, who disclosed last year that he has a degenerative brain disease, is retiring early next year at the end of his sixth term.
    The Journal Poll on the Republican primary election contest found dramatic differences in the two candidates' congressional districts.
  • In the 1st District, where she has chalked up an impressive record of costly, hard-fought wins since taking office in 1998, Wilson had a 30-point advantage over Pearce— 57 percent to 27 percent.
  • In the more conservative 2nd District, where he has served since 2003 and formerly was a state legislator from Hobbs, Pearce had a 41-point advantage— 64 percent to 23 percent.
  • In the northern 3rd Congressional District, the contest was closer, but Pearce had a 9-point advantage: 46 percent to 37 percent.
  • In addition to a high-double-digit advantage in the southern part of the state, which is almost entirely included in his current congressional district, Pearce had sizable advantages in the northwest part of the state and on the east side. Several important northwest and east-side counties are included within the 3rd Congressional District.
        "The good news for Heather is, she's up by 30 in her district. The bad news for her is, she's down by 40 in his," Sanderoff said.
        Pearce is a former oil-industry businessman and the 2nd Congressional District, which includes his hometown of Hobbs, and the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Farmington, encompass the key oil and gas producing areas of the state.
        While Pearce had the advantage in the 3rd Congressional District as a whole, Wilson had a double-digit lead in the north-central part of the district, which includes the cities of Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos.
        "I don't recall the last time I've seen such powerful regionalism. But it's not shocking— it makes sense," Sanderoff said.
        Pearce had an advantage over Wilson in every age group except those ages 65 and older: 49 percent of those older voters favored Wilson, while 39 percent backed Pearce.
        "Looks like her Social Security ads have been working," Sanderoff said, referring to her campaign TV ads in which she accuses Pearce of once saying he would cut benefits for some recipients— a charge Pearce says is distorted.
        Sanderoff said the Republican Senate race was also breaking for Pearce along educational-background lines.
        While Pearce and Wilson roughly split the support among those with college degrees, Pearce was ahead among those with only some college experience and those whose highest level of education stopped at a high-school diploma.
        Pearce has branded himself as the true conservative in the Republican primary battle to succeed Domenici, who touched off a New Mexico political avalanche last fall when he announced he would not seek a seventh term. Domenici, however, has usually been characterized as a political moderate.
        Wilson out on the campaign trail calls herself the "common-sense conservative," maintaining that her record of winning tough elections over Democrats makes her the best GOP choice.
        Wilson's toughest 1st District general-election victory came two years ago, when she defeated Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid by fewer than 900 votes.
        On TV
        Tuesday's debate between Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce will be rebroadcast at 11:05 tonight on KOAT-TV, Channel 7.