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Blog Home Page --> House -- New Mexico -- 02

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 02: Teague (D) +4

Both parties knew the race for New Mexico's Albuquerque-based First District would be close, but Democrats considered the southern Second District more of a long shot. Now, that conclusion is being rethought.

A Research 2000 poll conducted 9/30-10/1 for DailyKos surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Democratic businessman Harry Teague and Republican restauranteur Ed Tinsley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Women)
Teague....47 / 84 / 13 / 51 / 44 / 50
Tinsley...43 / 8 / 77 / 39 / 48 / 38

McCain....49 / 9 / 83 / 48 / 53 / 45
Obama.....42 / 84 / 8 / 41 / 41 / 43

President Bush won the district, being vacated by Senate candidate Steve Pearce, by a 58%-41% margin over John Kerry in 2004.

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.

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.