Poll: GOP Could Rebound in Orange County and New Mexico

Poll: GOP Could Rebound in Orange County and New Mexico
Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP
Poll: GOP Could Rebound in Orange County and New Mexico
Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP
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The Democratic tidal wave that washed over California last fall turned Orange County blue, but there are hopeful signs for Republicans that the floodwaters are receding.

A new poll shows top GOP recruit Michelle Steel (pictured) tied with first-term Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda, both pulling in 42% of active voters, with 16% undecided.

Just 28% of the voters polled in the survey, released this week to RealClearPolitics, said they want to re-elect Rouda while 42% said they want to give someone else a chance.

The congressman, who defeated 15-term incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in one of the most closely watched House contests last cycle, has yet to make a firm impression in the district, the figures also show. Forty-two percent of voters in the district say they don’t know who Rouda is or have an unfavorable opinion of him, while just 30% have a favorable opinion.

The survey was conducted by TargetPoint Consulting on behalf of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC devoted to electing House Republicans. The poll was conducted Aug. 10-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.

It’s never a good sign when an incumbent lawmaker is polling dead even with a challenger a year ahead of an election. And Republicans believe the numbers also demonstrate the strength of Steel’s candidacy, considering all the headlines over the last month about Democrats surpassing Republican voter registrations in the once conservative bastion of Orange County.

The district went for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 1.7 percentage points with Clinton winning statewide in California by 30 points.

Steel, an Orange County supervisor, is one of three Asian American Republican women running for Congress in California. She previously served on the tax committee on the state Board of Equalization and is running on a tax-cutting platform with a Twitter handle of @TaxFighterSteel. She is married to former California GOP Chairman and current Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel.

Democrats won all four House seats that fall within, or partly within, Orange County -- once a Republican stronghold -- in 2018 and swept all seven battleground races statewide.

Republicans are now working to take back that territory and point to other recent surveys that show they are on the march and that first-term California Democrats are vulnerable.

National Republican Congressional Committee polling from early July shows self-funding lottery winner Gil Cisneros, who squeaked out a victory against GOP candidate Young Kim in another partly Orange County district, trailing Kim in a rematch, 46%-44% (with 9% undecided).

In California’s Central Valley, there’s another Democrat who’s in far worse shape in another rematch.

The most recent NRCC survey, also from early July, has Democratic Rep. TJ Cox of Fresno polling at 36% with 52% going for “a potential Republican challenger,” and 11% undecided. Former Rep. David Valadao, whom Cox defeated in 2018, has since filed to run against his former opponent again. Valadao was declared the winner but his lead then dwindled, and Cox pulled ahead as all of the ballots were counted weeks after Election Day.

Republicans are also highlighting a ray of hope for a House pickup in New Mexico’s 2nd District. A new poll, also conducted by TargetPoint Consulting for the CLF, shows a tossup between Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and a named (though undisclosed on a survey memo), female challenger. Torres Small eked out a win in the tight 2018 race.

In a head-to-head match-up, Torres Smalls leads just 45%-42% with 13% of voters remaining undecided. That three-point lead is within the poll’s margin of error. Among the 13% who are undecided, 36% said they preferred giving “someone else a chance” over reelecting Torres Small. Just 9% of undecided voters said they’d prefer to reelect her.

The Congressional Leadership Fund is not getting involved in the GOP primary so the poll doesn’t disclose which Republican challenger they named when conducting the survey.

However, a leading Republican who has seen a surge of GOP support in recent weeks is Claire Chase, a lobbyist for and family member of the owners of one of New Mexico’s most prominent oil and gas companies. In the GOP primary, Chase is running against state Rep. Yvette Herrell and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys.

Chase is married to Chance Chase, the grandson of New Mexico oil and natural gas titan Mack Chase. Mack Chase founded Mack Energy in 1988.

Claire Chase, 36, worked as a lobbyist for Mack Energy and was chair of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association from 2018 until leaving last month to launch her run for Congress. She also served as a financial adviser to then-Rep. Steve Pearce, who is now the chairman of the state Republican Party. As chairman, Pearce is barred from endorsing primary candidates.

The poll, which was also conducted Aug. 10-11, also shows that 35% of voters either haven’t heard of Torres Small or have no opinion of her, compared to 34% who have a favorable opinion of her and 32% who have an unfavorable opinion.

The bottom line, according to TargetPoint pollster Michael Meyers, is that Torres Small “is in trouble.”

“She remains relatively unknown among her constituents, opening herself to attack,” he wrote in the survey memo addressed to “interested parties.” “Moreover, voters want to give someone else a chance in Congress by an 11-point margin, and, even this early on, a named female challenger has the race within the margin of error.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.

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