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Barela, Pearce Edge Ahead of Incumbents Heinrich, Teague

By Michael Coleman
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Washington Bureau

          Republicans Jon Barela and Steve Pearce have pulled ahead of the Democratic incumbents in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, but both contests remained close in the campaigns' final days, according to a Journal Poll.
        "We've got close contests in both congressional races," said Brian Sanderoff of Research and Polling Inc. "But we do seem to have a momentum shift. Both of these races are trending Republican for different reasons."
        The Barela and Pearce advantages were both within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, making Election Day turnout critical for both campaigns.
        In the 1st District, Barela had the support of 49 percent in the poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday, while first-term Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich had 46 percent. Five percent of 1st District voters remained undecided or would not say which candidate they planned to vote for.
        In the 2nd District, Pearce had support of 48 percent of 2nd District voters compared with 45 percent support for first-term Democratic Rep. Harry Teague. Seven percent of likely 2nd District voters were undecided or would not say which candidate they planned to vote for.
        The Journal did not poll on the 3rd Congressional District race, where first-term Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., is being challenged by Republican Tom Mullins of Farmington.
        'Getting his legs'
        Sanderoff said Barela's surge among 1st District voters late in the campaign suggests that it took voters a while to become familiar with him — and that many of those voters like what they've seen. Heinrich led Barela 48 percent to 41 percent in an earlier Journal Poll, conducted Sept. 27-30.
        "Jon Barela has just been getting his legs the past three weeks," Sanderoff said. "That's the time period during which he's turned it around."
        A key to Barela's better showing in the latest poll was his newfound support among independent voters, or those who declined to state a party affiliation when they registered.
        Barela led Heinrich among independents, while the Journal Poll one month ago had Heinrich leading among that important voting group. Fifty-one percent of independent voters in the 1st District favored Barela in the most recent poll, compared with 47 percent for Heinrich.
        "The independents have reversed themselves to some extent," Sanderoff said.
        Heinrich continued to lead Barela among Hispanics, more of whom are registered as Democratic than Republican. Heinrich had 60 percent support among likely Hispanic voters, while 34 percent favored Barela.
        Heinrich also led Barela among voters ages 65 and over — who tend to vote in large numbers — 52 percent to 40 percent.
        Both candidates have employed negative ads, but Sanderoff said Barela's steady barrage of television ads attacking Heinrich seem to have hurt the Democratic incumbent.
        "They have succeeded in making this race more competitive," Sanderoff said of Barela's ads. "They're tying Heinrich to the Washington, D.C., Establishment, portraying him as being too liberal and questioning his integrity. It's a triple-barreled approach that is having some impact."
        2nd District
        In the 2nd District race, Pearce, who held the seat from 2003 until 2009, appeared to be getting closer to his goal of reclaiming it, according to the Journal Poll.
        Sanderoff said Pearce's 3-point edge suggested he has begun to consolidate support on the district's conservative east side. The west side of the district, which extends northward through Valencia County, tends to be more Democratic than the 2nd District's eastern side.
        One of the poll's more significant findings was Pearce's appeal to female voters, who preferred him to Teague by a margin of 53 percent to 40 percent.
        Sanderoff said Pearce's hard-hitting ads might be a factor in siphoning female support from Teague. One of the ads criticized Teague's decision to notify employees at his private business four days before Christmas 2009 that their health insurance would be canceled.
        "Pearce's ads over the past month have been meant to address Teague's character," Sanderoff said. "They (the Pearce campaign) recognize that Teague is a likable guy and they went after his likability, or his persona as being one of us."
        There were some bright spots for Teague in the Journal Poll.
        More Hispanics preferred Teague, with 65 percent supporting him compared with 25 percent of Hispanic voters who preferred Pearce.
        Forty-eight percent of poll respondents who said they were "very likely" to vote favored Teague, while 43 percent preferred Pearce.
        However, among voters polled who had cast early or absentee ballots, 60 percent said they voted for Pearce compared with 36 percent for Teague.
        "Pearce has a huge lead among those who already voted," Sanderoff said. "For Teague to win, there has to be a very high voter turnout, especially in the more Democratic western side of the district."
        The Journal Poll on the 1st Congressional District is based on telephone interviews with 400 likely voters in the district. The 2nd District survey is based on a sample of 402 voters. The margin of error for each full, scientific sample of voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points. Voters who had already cast ballots were asked for whom they had voted. Other voters were asked for whom they would vote at the time of the poll.

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