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Blog Home Page --> House -- New Mexico -- 01

NM: Dems Lead

In a year of change, no state will get more of it than New Mexico, as Senator Pete Domenici's retirement set off a chain of dominos that left all three of the state's congressional seats open. Domenici may have picked the wrong year, though, as Democrats lead in a new poll in all three districts.

The Research & Polling Inc. polls conducted for the Albuquerque Journal surveyed 400 registered voters in the First District and 401 in the Second District, both with margins of error of +/- 4.9%. In the Albuquerque-based first district, GOP Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and former Albuquerque city councilman Martin Heinrich, the Democrat, were tested. In the southern Second District, it was Republican businessman Ed Tinsley matched up against ex-Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague.

In the heavily Democratic Third District, 201 voters were surveyed for a margin of error of +/- 7%. State Public Regulation Commission chair Ben Lujan was tested against Republican Dan East and independent Carol Miller in the northern district.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Heinrich.......47 / 73 / 12 / 44
White..........43 / 20 / 81 / 30

Teague.........45 / 77 / 9 / 32
Tinsley........41 / 13 / 79 / 36

Lujan..........51
East...........23
Miller.........12

The First and Second districts are currently held by Republicans Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, both of whom ran for Senate. No Democrat has ever held the First District as it currently exists, while the last Democrat to hold the Second District, Harold Runnels, passed away in 1980.

Both Democrats who now hold statistically tiny leads will benefit from a pro-Barack Obama wave. Heinrich is doing best among lesser-educated voters, while White's appeal among Democrats is indicative of his reputation as a strong candidate. Teague is performing well in the eastern part of the district, traditionally a more Republican area and the Democrat's political base.

Lujan, running in the most Democratic district in the state, is likely to succeed Rep. Tom Udall, who is the heavy favorite to win Domenici's Senate seat.

NM 01: Heinrich (D) +2

Republican Heather Wilson had a tough time keeping her Albuquerque-based seat in 2006, and a new poll suggests the GOP nominee to replace her will face more of a challenge.

The poll, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/29-10/2 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, the Democrat, and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the Republican, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Wht / His)
Heinrich........43 / 65 / 11 / 47 / 38 / 51
White...........41 / 18 / 75 / 31 / 47 / 32

Despite his more fragmented base, Heinrich's lead among Hispanic voters, who make up 43% of the district, could put him over the top. That would be an impressive feat after Heinrich, who is white, beat several Hispanic-surnamed candidates in his primary election.

Heinrich Leads Own Poll

There are few candidates Republicans are more excited about than Bernallilo County Sheriff Darren White, a strong campaigner with an impressive fundraising streak so far and a moderate record that could be the party's only hope of keeping an increasingly Democratic-leaning Albuquerque-based district. But a new poll, conducted for White's opponent, shows White isn't in the clear just yet.

The survey, taken 6/29-7/2 for Albuquerque city councilmember Martin Heinrich by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, polled 518 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Heinrich and White, who won their respective primaries early last month, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Heinrich............47
White................44

The First District, held by Rep. Heather Wilson who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate this year, voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry by narrow margins. The only reason Wilson kept the seat, many believe, is thanks to her determined skill as a campaigner. White, who was elected by a wide margin in the district's Democratic base of Bernallilo County, has the same reputation.

Still, Heinrich is no slouch in either the fundraising or the campaigning department. And Democrats, with the opportunity to pick up a Senate seat and an outside shot at a more Republican district in the southern part of the state, will likely invest significant resources in the state.

Both White and Heinrich will likely benefit from their top-of-the-ticket counterparts. In an interview with Politics Nation in April, White voiced enthusiasm for running alongside John McCain, a Westerner who represents a different type of Republican. And Heinrich will see an added Democratic turnout, especially among Hispanic voters, amongst whom Barack Obama is polling far ahead of McCain.In a district that is 43% Hispanic, that's a big boost for the Democrat.

For more on New Mexico's First District, check out our rundown of the race after visiting both Heinrich and White in April. Given the swing nature of the seat and the implications it has in terms of Republicans holding on to the Mountain West and among Hispanic voters, the Heinrich-White battle may be one of the most exciting, and telling, we'll see all year.

Pearce-Udall Match Set

With all but two precincts reporting, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce narrowly edged out fellow Rep. Heather Wilson to clinch the nomination to replace retiring Senator Pete Domenici in New Mexico last night. Pearce will face the state's third member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, in November, after Udall ran unopposed for his party's nomination.

Pearce overcame Wilson's margins in Bernalillo County, the state's population center which she has represented for ten years and which she won by a two-to-one margin. Those votes consisted of a little more than half the nearly 54,000 votes Wilson earned. Pearce earned larger margins in counties in the southern part of the state, which he has represented for three terms in Congress, including a 71%-29% win in Dona Ana County, the state's second largest, home of Las Cruces.

The contest between Pearce and Udall, who represents the state's northern Third District, will pit two clearly competing philosophies against one another. Pearce ran to Wilson's right in the primary, and his conservative voting record in the House will mark a clear distinction with Udall, who has maintained a largely liberal voting record during his five terms in office. Public polls have showed Udall leading Pearce by twenty points or more, a similar lead to the one he boasted over Wilson.

Both candidates come with strong home bases, and the contest will be fought over Wilson's Albuquerque base. That district has become the prototypical swing district of late, narrowly voting for Al Gore, who took the state's electoral votes in 2000 by just more than 360 votes, and John Kerry, who lost the state by a mere 6,000 votes in 2004.

Rarely do three congressional seats come open in the same state in the same year, and never has a state with just three seats to begin with experienced such turnover. Running to replace Wilson, both parties got their best possible candidates. Republican Darren White, the Bernalillo County sheriff, easily beat a more conservative state senator, while New Mexico City Councilman Martin Heinrich scored 43% of the vote to beat two Hispanic-surnamed candidates on the Democratic side.

White has long been touted as one of the best candidates Republicans have fielded this year, while Heinrich has shown an impressive ability to raise big money. Both have a base in the district, though Heinrich's is much more localized around his city council district. White has been elected twice in the county that makes up more than 90% of the district. Both parties have signaled a willingness to play strongly in Albuquerque, and it promises to be one of the closest races in the country.

"Darren White would continue where George Bush leaves off, promoting a Republican agenda that has failed our middle class and our troops in Iraq," said Yoni Cohen, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Pearce's Second District, former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague narrowly ousted Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley by a 52%-48% margin to win the Democratic primary. McCamley won big in his home county, the district's population base, but Teague, whose home in Hobbs hugs the Texas border, cobbled together wins in fifteen of the district's eighteen counties.

On the Republican side, restaurateur Ed Tinsley won 31% of the vote in a crowded five-way primary for the win. Tinsley's closest competitors, Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman and retired banker Aubrey Dunn, won 21% and 20%, respectively. Newman won half the votes in his home county, but Tinsley managed to win more raw votes from Dona Ana County, potentially presaging a problem for Democrat Teague in the general.

The Second District gave President Bush a seventeen-point margin in 2004, a six-point improvement from his 2000 performance there. Tinsley, who lost to Pearce in the 2002 primary, should be the favorite, but national Democrats have suggested they will play in the district.

"Santa Fe's own Ed Tinsley is out of touch with voters in Southern New Mexico," Cohen said. "As a moderate businessman who helped create thousands of jobs, Harry Teague fits the district."

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain, though, said Democratic efforts would be futile. "Thanks to the high quality of our newly minted nominees, Republicans are positioned to retain both competitive open seats in New Mexico," he said, praising White's law enforcement background and Tinsley's business credentials while slamming Heinrich ("lack[s] any real world experience aside from being a part-time camp counselor") and Teague (who "limp[ed] out of the primary" after being considered the front-runner).

Udall's Third District is likely to stay in Democratic hands. State Public Regulation Commission Chair Ben Lujan, the son of the state House Speaker, won a surprisingly large victory, garnering 42% of the vote. Real estate developer Don Wiviott, who spent a boatload of his own money, came in second with 25%. On the Republican side, real estate developer Dan East beat attorney Marco Gonzales 53%-47%.

The northern part of the state is to Democrats what the southern portion is to Republicans. Gore and Kerry each won the district by nine points, and Udall has never had a problem keeping the seat.

Bush Still Raising Money

President Bush will hit fundraisers in three Southwestern states next week, getting back on the trail after spending most of his time around Washington. Bush will raise cash in Phoenix, with John McCain, then appear twice with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in Utah. But before raising big bucks for the head of the ticket, Bush will land in Albuquerque to fill the coffers of Bernallilo County Sheriff Darren White, one of a few Republicans with a good shot at winning an open seat this year.

Tickets to the event for White, held this coming Tuesday at a Los Ranchos de Albuquerque private home, run from $1,000 to attend to $5,000 for a photo with Bush. KOB-TV reports the event's goal is just $300,000, which seems low for an evening with the commander in chief. Still, a fundraiser with Vice President Dick Cheney held for Senator Pete Domenici before he announced his retirement netted just $400,000.

The event comes just a week before the state's June 3 primary, in which White is a heavy favorite over State Senator Joe Carraro.

But Bush's visit could come back to haunt the relatively moderate sheriff as he seeks to replace Republican Rep. Heather Wilson in a marginal district that gave more votes to the last two Democratic presidential candidates than to the incumbent. White will likely face questions from the eventual Democratic nominee about his fondness for a very unpopular president, and the leading Democratic candidate has already gone on the attack.

"The president knows that Darren White is a George Bush Republican who will continue to advocate for endless war in Iraq and for economic policies that have left middle class families behind," Albuquerque City Councilmember Martin Heinrich told the Las Cruces Sun-News. Heinrich will face former state Aging Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron in the June 3 Democratic primary.

NM's Wide Open Field

Perhaps no state this year will offer a more wide-open field for both parties than New Mexico, a state that has long been a battleground in presidential politics. But thanks to a key retirement this year, four of the state's five seats in Congress are up for grabs, and Democrats and Republicans are focusing on the state early to gain the upper hand.

When Senator Pete Domenici, who has served in the upper chamber since 1972, announced he would forgo a bid for a seventh term this year, the ensuing scramble has thrown all three of the state's members of Congress into a mad dash for a rare opportunity to move to the upper chamber.

While Democrats feel all but certain they will retake the seat, the state truly favors neither party. Domenici and his junior colleague, five-term Democrat Jeff Bingaman ("junior" being an extremely relative term), have not faced serious competition in a generation, but presidential contests have been decided by razor-thin margins. Al Gore won the state by 365 votes in 2000, out of more than 550,000 cast, and President Bush took the state by 6,000 votes in 2004.

Republicans face the difficult task of wading through what is likely to be an expensive and bloody primary, as Roll Call's David Drucker writes. As Republican Reps. Heather Wilson, of the Albuquerque-based First District, and Steve Pearce, whose Third District covers the southern portion of the state, fight it out, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall will not face a competitive primary and will likely meet a wounded Republican in the fall.

Udall is already in good position. A November poll conducted for his campaign shows him leading both Wilson and Pearce by wide margins. And while the two Republicans will be forced to spend heavily from their bank accounts to win the June 3 primary, Udall can stockpile cash and build on the lead he already has. Through December, Udall held $1.7 million in the bank, compared with just under $1.1 million for Wilson and $819,000 for Pearce.

The Senate race is hardly the GOP's only worry, though. None of the state's three open seats are out of reach for Democrats, and with the aid of big national dollars, the party could conceivably take all three Congressional seats along with Domenici's slot in the Senate. Udall's seat and Pearce's seat favor their respective parties by about equal margins, though Democrats have found more success recruiting in Pearce's district than Republicans have in Udall's.

It is New Mexico's First District where the biggest battle will be fought. Based in the state's largest city, Wilson never had an easy bid for re-election after winning her initial contest, a special election, with just 45% of the vote. Democratic presidential nominees have won the seat narrowly in both 2000 and 2004, making recruiting the right candidate key to taking over.

Three strong Democrats are fighting for the nomination, including Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, former Cabinet officer Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Republicans, meanwhile, think Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the likely GOP nominee, is one of their strongest recruits in the country. Sheriffs willing to run good campaigns have a tendency to win even in districts that don't necessarily favor their parties, as Washington State Republican Dave Reichert and Indiana Democrat Brad Ellsworth have shown.

In Pearce's Second District, a number of Republicans are seeking the nomination, including Earl Greer, the chair of the Sierra County Republican Party, Monty Newman, the Mayor of Hobbs, Aubrey Dunn, a retired banker and rancher, and wealthy restauranteur Ed Tinsley. The winner will likely face either Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley or former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague. Democrats hold out hope that another wave election could improve their chances in what is ordinarily a GOP district.

The northern Third District looks like the only contest in which the incumbent party is highly likely to keep control. State Public Regulation Commission chairman Ben Lujan, Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya, real estate developer Don Wiviott and former Indian Affairs Secretary Bennie Shendo are the district's leading Democratic hopefuls. The district is majority-minority, in which 19% of the electorate is Native American and 36% has Hispanic heritage. Republicans will likely nominate attorney Marco Gonzales.

From Domenici's seat to Congressional races around the state, New Mexico will offer some of the best opportunities for Democrats this year. The state is also one of the few examples where Republicans have recruited well, thanks in large part to White, running to replace Wilson. If Republicans come out of 2008 maintaining control of at least one Congressional seat and Domenici's Senate seat, the party will likely have a better year than many expect. But if Democrats sweep, or take three of the four contests, November will be a bad month for Republicans around the country.

NM Races Set

Republican Senator Pete Domenici's retirement announcement in October initiated a trickle down of vacancies throughout the New Mexico congressional delegation, as the state's three House members have all filed for his seat. With Tuesday's candidate filing deadline, the races for the June 3 primary in the two open Republican seats are now set.

In the vast 2nd District, which covers roughly the southern half of the state, Rep. Steve Pearce leaves a safely Republican seat for his second shot at the Senate. He lost in the 2000 Republican primary for Senate before winning the open House seat in 2002.

Hoping to keep the seat in Republican hands, among others, is Ed Tinsley, a small business owner and rancher, and Aubrey Dunn, a retired bank president. The Republican nominee will start the general election with an advantage, as President Bush won 58% here in 2004. Both candidates reported having close to $300,000 cash on hand at the end of 2007.

Leading Democratic candidates include Dona Ana County Commissioner Bill McCamley, who has more than $200,000 cash on hand, and business owner Harry Teague, who reported having more than $350,000.

Teague's candidacy hit a major snag this week, however, when the Albuquerque Tribune reported that he and his company were named in a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former employee. Teague is specifically accused of ignoring a sexual harassment complaint by the former employee against a male coworker while she was working at one of Teague's companies. How long this matter remains in the news will greatly affect Teague's chances in the Democratic primary.

New Mexico's 1st District is centrally-located and tiny compared to the state's other two districts. The population of this swing district is 43% Hispanic, and gave John Kerry a 3-point win in 2004. It includes Albuquerque, the state's largest city, and some of its suburbs.

Rep. Heather Wilson has held this seat since 1998, when she won a special election with 45%. Her highest percentage since then has been 55%, with her closest margin of victory coming in 2006, when she defeated Patricia Madrid by 861 votes out of more than 200,000 cast. With Wilson vacating the seat, this is prime pickup territory for Democrats.

Leading the small pack of Democrats who have filed for the seat are Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich and former state Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham. Heinrich reported having close to $300,000 cash on hand, and Grisham has about $100,000.

The leading Republican in the 1st District is Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who has close to $200,000 cash on hand. Also running for the nomination is State Senator Joe Carraro, who finished second in the Republican primary for Senate in 2006. However, Carraro has yet to file campaign finance papers with the FEC.

National Republicans clearly favor White, who has won several elections in a jurisdiction that covers the vast majority of the district. NRCC chair Tom Cole told Politics Nation last week that while Wilson has been one of the better candidates he's seen, White is even better.

Both parties will likely spend lots of money here, as Democrats eye a chance to expand their majority, and Republicans fight to hold on to one of their swing districts.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Nothing's Easy For NM GOP

There were few bright spots for Republicans in 2006, but Heather Wilson was perhaps the biggest. The five-term incumbent survived a challenge from New Mexico's Attorney General by a narrow 875-vote margin, keeping a moderate Albuquerque-based district in GOP hands.

This year, Wilson is vacating her seat to run for the Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. The race to replace her in the House is not one the GOP wants to fight: John Kerry and Al Gore both won the district, by 9,000 and 3,000 votes, respectively. Nearly half the district is made up of Hispanic voters, who of late have been trending toward the Democratic Party at a much faster clip.

But the NRCC got good news when Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White jumped into the race. The popular Republican, elected in a Democratic county, quickly released a poll showing him leading both Patricia Madrid, the ex-AG who lost to Wilson in '06, and Albuquerque City Councilmember Martin Heinrich by double digits.

Nothing, though, goes completely right for the GOP this year. The Associated Press reported yesterday that New Mexico State Sen. Joe Carraro plans to join the race for the seat, taking on White in a GOP primary. Carraro's Senate district covers parts of western Bernallilo County, on the western edge of the Congressional district's boundaries. Carraro established an exploratory committee earlier this month, and while some had speculated that he might drop his campaign to run for re-election instead, he insists he's running for Wilson's seat.

Carraro told New Mexico political analyst Joe Monahan that he sees the Iraq war and immigration as two top issues. The senator will have to earn 20% of the vote at a pre-primary convention in March in order to qualify for the ballot and give White real problems. But Carraro apparently doesn't plan on following Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment. He told New Mexico political watcher Heath Haussamen that, while White has the state GOP behind him, Carraro hopes business interests will join his campaign "to make sure that we have someone running for Congress that knows what they're doing -- no disrespect."

Still, Monahan considers White the front-runner. National Republicans have no plans to get involved, according to NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. "The NRCC does not pre-primary endorse. We trust local Republicans to decide on who they think would make the best nominee in the general election," he told Politics Nation. "With that being said, we are confident the seat will remain in Republican hands."

Democrats face a contested primary as well, as Heinrich will face off with former state Health Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham and Bryon Paez, a lobbyist and former state cabinet affairs director. Lujan Grisham and White are generating the most excitement among their parties, and a face off between the two would be a close contest.

Domenici's retirement not only attracted Wilson as a candidate, but won over Reps. Steve Pearce and Tom Udall as well. Udall's seat is likely to stay safely in Democratic hands, but Republican Pearce's southern Second District will be a target for Democrats. So far, three well-known Democrats have announced their intentions to run for the seat, as has wealthy businessman and rancher Ed Tinsley, a Republican who ran against Pearce in 2002. Several Republican state legislators are considering their own campaigns, but none has stepped forward yet. Stay tuned for more on that race.

An Analogy The NRCC Likes

After recruiting their top candidate in New Mexico's Albuquerque-based First District, House Republicans are hoping Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White can emulate another sheriff turned Congressman. "If Democrats are smart, they will do the math and come to the realization that getting mixed up in a political shootout with a sheriff like Dave Reichert and Darren White usually yields negative results," said NRCC press secretary Ken Spain.

Reichert, the former King County Sheriff, won election in 2004 in Washington State's Eighth District. The county is the largest in the state centered around Seattle and its eastern and southern suburbs. When the late Rep. Jennifer Dunn retired, many saw the seat as a top Democratic pick-up opportunity. Reichert has won narrowly twice in an increasingly Democratic district, and House Republicans hope White can save the New Mexico seat following Reichert's model.

The early results look good. A Public Opinion Strategies poll, taken for White's campaign, shows White leading several potential Democratic contenders. The poll, conducted 10/8-9, surveyed 400 likely voters for a 4.9% margin of error. Tested alongside White were former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who lost narrowly to Heather Wilson last year, and Albuquerque City Council member Martin Heinrich.

General Election Matchups
White 51
Madrid 39

White 51
Heinrich 33

POS is one of the most highly-respected Republican polling firms in the country, and the NRCC frequently uses them for top races. White is using Nicole McCleskey, a partner at POS based in Albuquerque, for his polling.

The poll is an optimistic baseline that Republicans are pushing to convince reporters they can hold the district. But without a top-tier Democrat in the race yet, and with White getting a head start, the numbers show that Democrats face a difficult race to retake the seat, to say the least.

White House Loves New Mexico

Just months after President Bush stopped by Albuquerque to raise cash for Sen. Pete Domenici, Vice President Dick Cheney will pull in cash for the congresswoman hoping to replace the retiring Senator. Cheney will appear at a fundraiser for Rep. Heather Wilson next month, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican's Steve Terrell.

Appearing with Bush is dangerous, thanks to his low approval numbers. Appearing with Cheney, who is even less popular than his boss, could be even less fun for Wilson. Fortunately, Air Force Two will remain far from the prying eyes of local media: The fundraiser will be held in Washington.

Cheney's agreeing to hold a fundraiser for Wilson comes before Rep. Steve Pearce, also a Republican, has made up his mind on the race. The overt support from the White House is a pretty clear indication about what Washington Republicans think Pearce should do: Stay in his House seat, and let the more moderate Wilson take her shot.

Meanwhile, the race for Wilson's Albuquerque-based district is getting more crowded. We wrote recently about Republicans getting their top pick, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White. Now Democrats have picked up one of their top candidates. Former New Mexico Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham announced yesterday she would jump in the race, the AP reports, to contest the Democratic nomination.

Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, another Democrat, is already running for the seat, while 2006 candidate Patricia Madrid has not said whether she will run again.

For NRCC, A Good Week

Earlier, we wrote about former Rep. Mike Sodrel's decision to run, for a fourth time, against Rep. Baron Hill in Indiana's 9th District. Word also today that Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a Republican, will run to replace Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico's First District.

The district, which John Kerry and Al Gore both won narrowly, has proved a challenge for Democrats on the House level. Republicans are excited, and think White is the top-tier recruit they've been looking for. "Candidate recruitment continues to go exceedingly well for us," says National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain. "We expect more top-tier recruits to announce their candidacies in the coming days and weeks."

Wilson is leaving her seat to run for Senate, a position vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici, who is retiring.

With the additions of Sodrel and White, this is proving to be a good week for the NRCC.