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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- New Mexico

NM: Udall +16

He almost didn't run. Now, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall looks like he's cruising toward picking up a Republican-held Senate seat. According to a new poll, Udall has all but wrapped up the race to replace New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.

The poll, conducted by Myers Research and Grove Insight for Project New West, surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/10-12 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Udall and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce were tested.

General Election Matchup

The news gets worse for Pearce. An at-times ugly primary between Pearce and fellow Rep. Heather Wilson sapped the Hobbs Republican's bank account, and earlier this month the National Republican Senatorial Committee canceled more than $2 million in reserved television time in the state.

Udall, who faced no significant opposition in his own primary, has led every poll matching up the two contenders.

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.

Pearce Leads NM Poll

One of the most important races of the primary season is playing out today in New Mexico, as Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson battle for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Senator Pete Domenici. The race has gotten heated, with Domenici weighing in on Wilson's behalf and the Club for Growth backing Pearce, and a new poll shows the contest is neck and neck.

The poll, conducted by New Mexico-based Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal, surveyed 591 likely Republican primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Pearce and Wilson were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / NM1 / NM2 / NM3)
Pearce...45 / 27 / 64 / 46
Wilson....39 / 57 / 23 / 37

Wilson's wide lead in her Albuquerque-based First District is offset by Pearce's head start in his southern, and more Republican, Second District. The northern Third District is the most heavily Democratic in the state, but 45% of voters there still cast ballots for President Bush in 2004.

Wilson has always been seen as a strong campaigner and a skilled closer, but, being the more moderate of the two, she faced a steep climb, even as Domenici's chosen successor.

The winner of the Republican primary will begin the general election campaign as an underdog to the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tom Udall. Without a serious primary challenger, Udall has been able to stockpile money, and having been elected statewide twice and built his name recognition, every public poll so far has shown him running far ahead of his GOP rivals. For more background on the race, see our preview of the Land of Enchantment's primaries today.

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.

Updating The Exchange

We're updating our Senate race rankings today, which we have failed to do since late September. If you take one lesson from the list, it's that Democrats are in even better position than they were a few months ago: More seats are open, more pickups are possible and the party is still outraising its Republican counterparts.

Still, watch the middle tier races: Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) are in trouble, but they seem with each passing day to be getting safer. All three are bucking Republican leadership at times, and while Democrats have good candidates against each, the difference between a bad year for the GOP and a terrible year will be the difference between these three surviving or failing.

Races we considered for the number 10 spot: Kentucky, where Democrats are hungry for the potential to knock off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has a lot of money, though, and in a presidential year, as Kentucky goes for the GOP nominee, it's hard to imagine any but the best candidate (Rep. Ben Chandler?) having so much as a snowball's chance of beating McConnell. Polls show Chandler and State Auditor Crit Luallen performing well against the incumbent, but both have said they won't run. South Dakota, where Sen. Tim Johnson is still recovering from a stroke, should be a good opportunity for Republicans. So far, though, they have only managed to recruit a State Representative who reported just $37,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter, nowhere close to Johnson's $2 million account. Because of his health troubles, Johnson had been a retirement threat. But he announced his re-election bid in mid-October, and with an underfunded challenger, he will likely sail to another six year term in 2008.

(Correction: We wrote that State Representative Joel Dykstra had raised $37,000 in the third quarter. In fact, he raised $82,000 in the third quarter and retained $37,000 cash on hand. We regret the error and any resulting confusion.

Races we dropped from the Exchange: South Dakota, Nebraska.

Races we added to the Exchange: New Mexico, Mississippi

As always, agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts. And don't forget to head over to RCP's Fantasy '08 to trade contracts based on your own rankings.

10. Mississippi (R-Open): Resigning Sen. Trent Lott is leaving big shoes to fill, and Republicans might actually have some trouble filling them. As Gov. Haley Barbour looks around for a Republican to hold the seat, Rep. Roger Wicker is seen as the front-runner. Wicker has plenty of cash on hand, giving him a lead over any potential Democratic opponent. Democrats are working on former Attorney General Mike Moore and former Gov. Ronny Musgrove, both of whom would be top picks to steal the seat. But any Democrat will find it difficult, if not impossible, to win in this most ruby red of states. If someone like Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket, subtract five more points from the eventual Democratic nominee. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Alaska (R-Stevens): If your home is raided by the FBI, guilty or not, it's probably time to call it a career. Indeed, if Ted Stevens is actually the GOP nominee, this race will move higher up on Democrats' priority list. The DSCC is doing all it can to recruit Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Other Republicans are said to be interested in a run for the seat, whether or not Stevens makes a bid. If Stevens is no longer in office, the state will have lost both its long-time Senators since 2002, while Rep. Don Young is tied up in the same scandal involving VECO Corp. Without Young, the state's position in Congress will be significantly impacted. In fact, should Stevens and Young run for re-election, that's likely to be a central tenant of their campaign. But will voters want seniority or new elected officials, like Gov. Sarah Palin, who aren't viewed as corrupt? (Last: 10)

8. Maine (R-Collins): Susan Collins was supposed to be this year's Lincoln Chafee: Popular and moderate, but a Republican in a very blue state. Democrats got their best possible candidate in Rep. Tom Allen, but polls in October have showed Collins holding consistently huge leads of twenty points or so. The race is going to tighten, and Allen is going to have the money to compete. But to the NRSC's relief, Collins is in great position a little less than a year out. Watch her rely heavily on her friend and colleague, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, if the race narrows. (Last: 6)

7. Minnesota (R-Coleman): Comedian Al Franken and wealthy attorney Mike Ciresi both say they will abide by the results of a convention among Minnesota Democrats. But several times over the last few years, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has faced nasty fights in post-convention primaries as candidates fail to live up to their promises. If Franken and Ciresi duke it out in a primary, Franken is likely to win but come away severely wounded. In a general, many will say that Franken is simply too goofy to be a Senator. But he's acting serious, and Minnesota is the same state that elected Jesse Ventura as governor. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, to his credit, is apparently taking the threat seriously. One thing to watch: The Democratic convention in Denver will likely help Mark Udall (see number 5, below). With a badly damaged GOP brand, will the Republican convention being held in Minneapolis be a good thing or a bad thing for Coleman? The answer might determine whether he gets re-elected. (Last: 8)

6. Oregon (R-Smith): Democrats are coalescing around House Speaker Jeff Merkley, though he still faces attorney Steve Novick in a primary. Merkley, who has his sights set on incumbent Gordon Smith, faces an uphill battle: Smith is doing all he can to inoculate himself from charges that he might, in fact, be a Republican. Smith has turned against the war in Iraq, recently voted for cloture on the farm bill, something 45 Republicans voted against, and makes his opposition to the Bush Administration known at every turn. But he is a Republican in a blue state during a presidential year. Merkley will need some national help if he is to compete with Smith on a financial level, but this year, that is not impossible. (Last: 5)

5. Colorado (R-Open): Rep. Mark Udall is hoping to build on a Democratic foundation that has overtaken this increasingly purple state in recent years. Democrats now control the state legislature, the majority of the Congressional delegation and the governor's mansion, and Udall hopes to take back a second Senate seat from retiring Sen. Wayne Allard. Republicans recruited previous Senate candidate and former Rep. Bob Schaffer, and while he's not the party's perfect candidate, he spent the summer raising good money and, to the surprise of many, was within one point of Udall in a mid-September poll. Still, with the Colorado landscape favoring Democrats so much, Udall remains the favorite. This is a district where the DSCC's huge money advantage over the NRSC could come into serious play. (Last: 3)

4. Louisiana (D-Landrieu): Down on the Bayou, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu is undeniably in trouble. A Zogby poll taken for the two-term senator's challenger, Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy, a former Democrat, shows Kennedy up by seven points. That's not a huge margin for an internal poll, but any survey that shows an incumbent trailing a challenger is significant news. Landrieu had more than $3.4 million cash on hand after the third quarter, while Kennedy hadn't begun raising money. Still, the Democrat who lost several hundred thousand members of her base remains the Republicans' best target for a pickup. (Last: 4)

3. New Hampshire (R-Sununu): A poll in early October showed the rematch between Republican Sen. John Sununu and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen overwhelmingly favoring Shaheen, the Democrat. Shaheen faces no primary and will benefit from her organization, which has stayed largely intact since her departure from the governor's mansion. Gov. John Lynch, a close ally, has kept that organization in good practice, winning with a higher percentage of votes than any governor in the state's history in 2006. Lynch is unlikely to get a strong challenger in 2008, and after the Democratic wave that swept the state last year, Shaheen remains a favorite to take the seat back for Democrats. (Last: 1)

2. New Mexico (R-Open): If Republicans can get bad news about New Mexico, bet that they will. When Sen. Pete Domenici announced his retirement, moderate Albuquerque Rep. Heather Wilson looked like a great candidate to retain the seat for the GOP. Then, dominoes started falling: Conservative Rep. Steve Pearce joined Wilson in the GOP primary. Rep. Tom Udall, a popular Democrat who will be well-funded, reconsidered his earlier decision not to run and jumped into the race, giving the party their strongest candidate to take the seat. But Udall's path wasn't entirely clear: He faced Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in the primary. Until, that is, Chavez dropped his bid, giving Udall a clear shot. News can't get any worse for Republicans in New Mexico. But if it can, it probably will. (Last: Not ranked)

1. Virginia (R-Open): Mark Warner seems headed straight for the Senate, even if he faces another former governor in the general election. Polls repeatedly show Warner beating Jim Gilmore by twenty points or more, and there's a simple reason: Gilmore was elected when Virginia was a Republican state. Warner helped nudge the state to purple status, where it currently resides. After Gilmore forced Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate, out of the race, Virginia Republicans will struggle to appeal even to GOP-leaning independents. The party can all but kiss the Senate seat goodbye. (Last: 2)

Sunday Quick Hits

Good Sunday morning. Some news as we wait to watch Rudy Giuliani face his most dangerous foe: Tim Russert.

-- Democrats got good news in New Mexico on Friday when Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez announced he would not run for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici's seat, leaving Rep. Tom Udall unopposed by any major candidate for the nomination. Udall will face the winner of the Republican primary between Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, and while polls have shown Udall leading both candidates, their cases won't be helped by a long and difficult primary in which they both tack right in order to win over GOP voters.

-- Just a few days before Ohio voters head to the polls to pick a replacement for the late Rep. Paul Gillmor, Democrats and Republicans are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. Republicans have $388,000 in television time reserved through Tuesday's election, while Democrats are firing back with $237,000 in air time, the Toledo Blade reports. Democrats are attacking Republican Bob Latta for voting to raise taxes thanks to the 2003 budget, while the NRCC is hitting Democrat Robin Weirauch for her positions on illegal immigration and the estate tax. The district is heavily Republican, as RCP's Kyle Trygstad wrote, but Democrats must think they have a real shot, given the amount of money they've dropped.

-- Longitme Louisiana Republican Rep. Jim McCrery will not run for re-election in 2008, Politico reports. McCrery was in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee before Democrats retook the chamber in 2006. McCrery opens a solidly Republican seat that the GOP will likely retain. His retirement, though, opens the third seat on the powerful committee for 2008: Reps. Jim Ramstad and Jerry Weller have also announced they will step down as well.

-- In Minnesota, Democrats might have trouble getting a nominee out of a convention unscathed as they seek to bring down freshman Sen. Norm Coleman. The AP reports one AFSCME council, centered in large cities, is backing comedian Al Franken, while another, though smaller council focusing on county government employees is backing attorney Mike Ciresi. Both candidates have pledged to abide by the results of a Democratic convention, but in Minnesota candidates who lose the convention frequently force a later, expensive primary. If Ciresi, independently wealthy, and Franken, able to raise large sums of money, head to a one-on-one showdown, Democrats may pick a wounded nominee to take on Coleman.

-- As Auditor Crit Luallen officially bowed out of the race against Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, three other candidates are cropping up. Ryan Alessi, the Lexington Herald-Leader's indispensable political columnist, points to businessmen Charlie Owen and Greg Fischer and attorney and Iraq war veteran Andrew Horne as potential Democratic candidates. Owen ran for the seat in 1998, though he didn't make it out of the primary, and was the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2003. Horne ran for Congress in 2006, losing to now-Rep. John Yarmuth in the Democratic primary. Fischer has not run for office before, though he is likely to spend a significant amount of his own money on the bid.

-- Attack phone calls aren't exclusive to the presidential campaign. Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat running for a Republican-held Senate seat in Colorado, found that out the hard way this week when Common Sense Issues, a group best known for aiding Mike Huckabee in Iowa, began running a new round of calls against him, the Rocky Mountain News reported yesterday. The group is also running television advertisements, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says Common Sense Issues is coordinating with Republican Bob Schaffer's campaign and the Colorado GOP. Both Schaffer and Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams deny the charge.

Field Report: Two Approaches

Three incumbent Republicans seeking re-election are taking an approach markedly different from a Republican challenger who hopes to join them in the upper chamber. For Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith and Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, the farm bill this week offered them the latest chance to vote against their party and join Democrats in trying to pass what will doubtless be a popular bill in their home states. Meanwhile, Smith and Maine Sen. Susan Collins are moving to inoculate themselves against criticism on the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Smith and Coleman both voted with Democrats to invoke cloture on the measure on Friday, joining every Democrat and two other Republicans. The measure attracted 55 votes, short of the 60 votes required.

Smith and Collins, who also faces a tough battle in 2008, voted against their party to support a war funding bill that would have required troops begin leaving in 30 days. That bill, too, failed to gain enough votes for cloture. But while Smith, Collins and Coleman have grown closer to Democrats this year, Rep. Heather Wilson, the New Mexico Republican hoping to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, is taking the opposite tack. "Sen. [Charles] Schumer only wants to fund pay, body armor and chow for the troops if he can put conditions on the money so that they cannot do the mission they have been ordered to do," she told the AP.

Wilson, a veteran herself, will have to take some strong anti-Democratic positions if she can make her way through a competitive primary against Rep. Steve Pearce. While turnout in GOP primaries has been low of late, some in New Mexico are expecting a much higher showing after a barn-burner of a race, writes the Albuquerque Tribune.

Finally, in Maine, where Collins will most likely face Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, the Kennebec Journal has a message for both candidates: They "want to engage us for an entire year. It's a big race and one that already has national eyes on it because it could help tip the balance of the Senate toward a more favorable Democratic margin ... but six to nine months of that would be just fine, thank you. Call us back in April."

Udall Poll Has Him Up Big

As word leaks that Rep. Tom Udall is definitely in the Senate race, the nascent campaign has released a poll showing him way ahead of any other candidate. The poll, conducted for Udall's campaign, from Democratic firm Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin and Associates, also tested Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce as well as Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and developer Don Wiviott.

The poll was conducted 10/23-27 and surveyed 500 likely general election voters, for a margin of error of 4.3%. They also surveyed 439 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of 4.6%.

General Election Matchups
Udall 52
Wilson 36

Udall 50
Pearce 33

Chaves 47
Wilson 43

Pearce 44
Chavez 40

Primary Election Matchup
Udall 50
Chavez 30
Wiviott 2

Poll Has T. Udall Up

In what has to be the most polled race this side of the Iowa Democratic caucuses, a new Research 2000 poll taken for DailyKos shows Rep. Tom Udall handily defeating any Republican in his way to take the seat of retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. Reps. Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, who are vying for the GOP nomination, each do much better against other Democrats, making Chuck Schumer's job of recruiting Udall all the more important.

The poll, conducted 11/5-7, surveyed 600 likely and regular voters throughout the state. The margin of error was +/- 4%. Along with Reps. Udall, Wilson and Pearce, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish, both Democrats, were also tested. 41% of the sample was Democrats, 31% Republicans and 28% were independents or backed other parties.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Udall 55 / 80 / 19 / 57
Wilson 38 / 10 / 79 / 35

Wilson 45 / 14 / 83 / 47
Chavez 42 / 70 / 6 / 41

Wilson 44 / 13 / 82 / 46
Denish 43 / 72 / 7 / 41

Udall 54 / 80 / 19 / 55
Pearce 37 / 10 / 78 / 32

Pearce 40 / 11 / 80 / 37
Chavez 39 / 65 / 6 / 37

Denish 45 / 74 / 8 / 44
Pearce 39 / 11 / 79 / 36

Udall 51 / 28
Wilson 46 / 34
Denish 44 / 23
Chavez 42 / 32
Pearce 41 / 35

Udall's double-digit reach among Republicans, matched up with both Pearce and Wilson, is a big problem in a state where the GOP already has fewer voters than Democrats do. Wilson runs better than Pearce among independents, which fits with the moderate reputation she's built on Capitol Hill. Still, whether she can win a Republican primary with a moderate reputation remains to be seen.

Prelude To A Primary

Democrats were heartened to hear that Rep. Steve Pearce, a conservative New Mexico Republican, would run against more moderate Rep. Heather Wilson in the GOP primary. Now, though, Democrats could find themselves facing a primary as well.

While Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has reportedly been hard at work condensing support for his bid, DSCC chairman Chuck Schumer said he is continuing to talk to possible candidates, according to the Albuquerque Tribune. Schumer would not say who he has talked with, though Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish is one possibility. A Denish spokeswoman said more DC Democrats had urged her boss not to completely shut the door on a bid.

The DSCC is also said to be aware of a blog urging Rep. Tom Udall to change his mind and make a run. Schumer did not mention New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, though NBC Political Director Chuck Todd said recently that a Senate bid from Richardson is not out of the question. Richardson's camp has repeatedly shot down those rumors, however.

Schumer's comments elicited a strong response from Chavez's campaign. "While Martin Chavez has great respect for Senator Schumer, New Mexicans, not New Yorkers, get to decide who will be the next U.S. senator from New Mexico," Chavez manager Mark Fleisher told the Tribune.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Pearce kicks off his campaign tomorrow with the beginnings of a ten-stop tour around the state.

Update: The Albuquerque Journal breaks news this afternoon with a report that Udall's political staff are calling Democratic heavy hitters in New Mexico to inform them that the congressman is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate. Udall has not reached a decision, but Schumer scores a victory for getting him to think seriously about the race again.

Journal scribe Michael Coleman also reports Udall got a call yesterday from Richardson, who told him unequivocally that he does not plan to run. The guaranteed absence of a primary against Richardson is likely just the enticement Udall needed to think again about entering the race.

We've written it before, but if Udall does jump in, 2008 gets two interesting side stories: First, all three of New Mexico's members of Congress will be seeking the seat, severely wounding the state's seniority in the House. Fortunately for New Mexicans, Sen. Jeff Bingaman has his own seniority to put to work on behalf of his state. The second story line: Rhree members of the Udall family will be running for the upper chamber, including Mark, in Colorado, Tom, in New Mexico, and Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a cousin to both Udalls.

Chavez Up In Own Poll

After a week that saw Democrats lose a top potential candidate in Nebraska, another Senate seat the party hoped to pick up looks within reach, according to a new poll. Roll Call's David Drucker writes up a poll today showing Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez in good position for 2008, when he hopes to retake retiring Republican Pete Domenici's Senate seat for his party.

The poll, conducted 10/8-11, surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Lake Research Partners, a prominent Democratic polling firm, handled the survey for Chavez's campaign. Also tested was Rep. Heather Wilson, who represents Albuquerque and its suburbs.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
Chavez 41 / 48
Wilson 40 / 30

Chavez, the poll suggests, is less well-known around the state and has room to grow as a candidate. Of those surveyed, 46% had a favorable impression of the mayor, while 22% viewed him unfavorably. By contrast, 48% viewed Wilson favorably and 38% unfavorably.

Pollsters will only release results that are good news for their campaign, so any internal polls that leak should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. But this particular poll was conducted before Rep. Steve Pearce announced his intentions to run for the seat, pitting Wilson against a strong primary challenger and potentially weakening the eventual GOP nominee.

Candidates have until February 12 to file, and the primary is likely to be held in June.

Pearce, Wilson To Duke It Out

Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports today that Rep. Steve Pearce will run to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico. Pearce's entry sets up what will likely be an ugly primary contest between him and First District Congresswoman Heather Wilson.

Pearce's sprawling district, on the southern side of the state, gives many more votes to Republicans than Wilson's Albuquerque-based seat. Rumors around Washington indicated that Pearce waited to announce his intentions until a poll he commissioned came back. A SurveyUSA poll last week showed Pearce leading Wilson in a primary.

The Democratic field is currently led by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, while some top Democrats are said to be leaning on Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish, encouraging her to make a bid. Until Domenici retired, Chavez and Denish were thought to be headed toward a showdown to replace Gov. Bill Richardson when his term expires in 2010.

Richardson himself has repeatedly shot down rumors that he will get in the race if his presidential campaign doesn't go anywhere. The state's early filing deadline, just two weeks into February, would be just a week after a February 5th primary when Richardson learns the fate of his White House hopes.

Wilson reported more than $750,000 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, while Pearce showed $580,000.

[Correction: I wrote that Pearce's district encompassed the northern side of the state. He represents the southern portion of the state. Udall represents the top half of New Mexico. Entirely my fault, I regret the error.]

Senate Fundraising Numbers

Senate numbers trickle in slower than House numbers, as Senate candidates file with their chamber's Sergent at Arms, which then forwards the numbers to the FEC, rather than electronically, as House candidates do. Still, top candidates in important races brag of their success. Here are the numbers we've compiled for our top-ten Senate races to watch, with New Mexico added on for good measure. Results in alphabetical order:

Alaska (Anchorage Daily News)
Ted Stevens (R): $463k raised, ~$1.2m cash on hand

Colorado (Courtesy Rocky Mountain News)
Mark Udall (D) $1.05m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Bob Schaffer (R): $786k raised, $1.16m cash on hand

Louisiana (Politics Nation reporting)
Mary Landrieu (D): $857k raised, $3.4m cash on hand
(State Treasurer John Kennedy has not yet entered the race)

Maine (Bangor Daily News gets credit)
Susan Collins (R): $1m raised, $3.1m cash on hand
Tom Allen (D): $666k raised, $2.1m cash on hand

Minnesota (Hat tip, Star-Tribune)
Al Franken (D): $1.89m raised, $2.45m cash on hand
Norm Coleman (R): $1.7m raised, $5m cash on hand
Mike Ciresi (D): $307k raised, $607k cash on hand

Nebraska (The Hill article and Politics Nation reporting)
Jon Bruning (R): $225k raised, $1m cash on hand
Bob Kerrey (D): $342k cash on hand
(Note: Kerrey's numbers are left over from his last Senate bid. He has not formally closed his campaign committee, nor has he declared an intent to run in 2008. Former Gov. Mike Johanns launched his campaign last week, after the filing period had closed)

New Hampshire (Thanks, Union Leader)
John Sununu (R): $701k raised, $2.7m cash on hand
Jeanne Shaheen (D): $188k raised, $178k cash on hand
(Note that Shaheen began raising money two weeks before the filing period ended)

New Mexico (Nice work, Las Cruces Sun-News/AP)
Heather Wilson (R): $240k raised, $755k cash on hand
Steve Pearce (R): $251k raised, $582k cash on hand
Don Wiviott (D): $130k raised, $371k cash on hand
(Note: Wilson announced for the seat after the filing deadline had closed. Pearce has not yet announced his plans. Fundraising results are for both of their House committees, all of which they could transfer into a Senate race)

Oregon (Again, The Hill)
Gordon Smith (R): $825k raised, $4m cash on hand
Jeff Merkley (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand
Steve Novick (D): ~$300k raised, $200k cash on hand

Virginia (Per The Hill and Politics Nation reporting)
Mark Warner (D): $1.1m raised, $1m cash on hand
Tom Davis (R): $220k raised, $1m cash on hand
(Note that Warner began raising money in mid-September, while Davis has not officially entered the race; Davis' fundraising numbers reflect money in his House account that he can transfer to a Senate bid. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore has yet to officially enter the race and has not opened a federal campaign account.)

South Dakota (AP and Sioux City Journal)
Tim Johnson (D): $450k raised, $2m cash on hand
Joel Dykstra (R): $82k raised

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.

Morning Thoughts: Turn Left At Albuquerque

Happy Tuesday morning. Cleveland, apparently, rocks. Sorry, Yankee fans. Here's what's kicking around Washington today:

-- The Senate is out of session this week for Columbus Day recess, while the House begins an easy week tonight. No votes until 6:30 p.m., when the House will take up bills on product safety, war profiteering and college tuition for residents of the District of Columbia. The House Foreign Affairs Committee takes up a resolution declaring genocide in an early 20th Century incident in the then-Ottoman Empire, when thousands of Armenians were slaughtered. When France threatened a similar resolution, Turkey cut off some military ties, and some have suggested that, should the resolution pass, several air bases the U.S. uses to stage operations for Iraq could be threatened.

-- The biggest news driving the day: Anticipation over former Sen. Fred Thompson's impending debate performance in a gathering, sponsored by CNBC, tonight in Dearborn, Michigan. The storyline going into the debate is that Thompson must have a stellar performance tonight. The debate is "crucial," per the NYT and WaPo and a "big test," says Thompson's hometown Tennessean. Thompson has been practicing for weeks, with at least seven sessions at his McLean, Virginia, headquarters, writes AP's Liz Sidoti. Roger Simon's round-up of expectations the Thompson camp is setting: "All he has to do is not fall asleep. All he has to do is not throw up. All he has to do is not drool."

-- One side note that will be telling: Sidoti reports that Thompson will find himself standing between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani tonight. The two campaigns have gone after each other with increasing urgency of late, most recently on taxes and spending, with both launching shots suggesting the other is nothing less than a tax-and-spend liberal. If the two take more shots at each other than at Thompson -- and given that the debate will focus on economic issues, taxes and spending will be a major topic -- will that signal that neither takes the threat of Thompson very seriously?

-- In a blow to former Sen. John Edwards' campaign, SEIU yesterday voted not to endorse a presidential candidate, freeing their local chapters to do the job for them. While most top officials are friendly to Edwards, locals in New York and Illinois backed their favorite daughter and son enough to block the North Carolinian from grabbing the nod. "Given the importance of this election, we are encouraging members and leaders to act on their passion for the candidates, and get involved on a statewide basis," SEIU President Andy Stern said. Edwards' campaign sees reason to be publicly optimistic, saying they could now win endorsements from locals in key states, writes Perry Bacon.

-- Unions have split on supporting candidates in the primary this year, writes the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva. The AFL-CIO has promised to spend more than $50 million in 2008, though they haven't picked a Democratic standard-bearer. Hillary Clinton owns the support of six big unions, including the Machinists and National Federation of Teachers, while Edwards has support from four big labor groups, including the Steelworkers, Mine Workers and Carpenters. Barack Obama has the backing of one union, the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.

-- Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who yesterday reported a whopping $750,000 cash on hand, gets a major opponent today when Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez (D) will enter the race to succeed Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico, reports The Hill. Chavez, who lost a bid for governor in 1998, gives Democrats at least one top-tier candidate, though the party still pines for a bid from either Gov. Bill Richardson or Rep. Tom Udall, both of whom have said no.

-- Former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-ID), running to replace outgoing Sen. Larry Craig, goes from being a big front-runner (because no one else was running) to being a big underdog when Lieutenant Gov. Jim Risch (R) is expected to announce his candidacy in several news conferences around Idaho today. Risch will fly around from Boise to Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene, according to the Idaho Mountain Express. The move comes a day after news leaked that Craig will be inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame this coming Saturday.

-- Off-Message Hoax Of The Day: Two days after placing third in the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign is warning of a hoax email sent to supporters claiming that the campaign's Iowa chairman, former Lieutenant Governor candidate Bob Vander Plaats, is leaving the fold. "I'm not leaving my guy any time," Vander Plaats told the Register, strongly denying the rumors. The email hoax says Vander Plaats is off to support Romney, who led the Iowa poll with 29%, to Huckabee's 12%.

-- Today On The Trail: The GOP candidates head to Dearborn, Michigan, for the debate tonight. McCain offers a speech to the Detroit Economic Club earlier in the day, while Paul rallies with students at the University of Michigan. Romney and Giuliani hold post-debate rallies. On the Democratic side, Clinton continues rolling through Iowa, with stops in Webster City and Humboldt. Obama is in Londonderry and Plymouth, New Hampshire. Edwards visits beautiful Seaside, Oregon (Hint: Don't go to the aquarium, you'll just get depressed) addressing the Oregon AFL-CIO, and Kucinich meets students at a community college in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Wilson Reports For 3rd Quarter

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), flexing her fundraising muscle after announcing her plans to run for Senate, will report more than three quarters of a million dollars on hand when her campaign files with the FEC next week.

Deputy finance director Heather Wade reports her boss pulled in $238,000 during the third quarter, giving her $908,000 raised on the year and with $754,000 left over. With Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish each starting at about zero, numbers like that have to give Democrats pause. Rep. Tom Udall, the only potential candidate with a federal account already in use, bowed out of the race last week.

Rep. Steve Pearce, a more conservative Republican than Wilson, is on family vacation this weekend making a final decision about the race. His campaign reported $383,000 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter, in July. Pearce would benefit from the backing of the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax organization that has already sent out releases blasting what they call Wilson's "liberal record."

The possibility of a bloody primary is not one the NRSC hopes for, while the DSCC is still trying to coax a candidate into the race.

Wilson In, Udall Out In NM

Congresswoman Heather Wilson, a perpetual Democratic target, will announce in just minutes that she will be a candidate to replace New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, who announced his retirement yesterday. Wilson, a five-term Republican representing Albuquerque, gives the Republicans a strong chance to hold the seat in an increasingly even state, while seeking to become a Democratic target once every six years, as opposed to once every two.

On the Democratic side, Congressman Tom Udall, initially seen as one of the party's best chances to capture the seat, announced yesterday that he will not run. Democrats now turn their attention to Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish as two top candidates.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who would start a race as an overwhelming favorite, used yesterday to deny in every way he could that he would abandon his presidential bid to run for the seat.

Wilson To Make Announcement Tomorrow

As Senator Pete Domenici announces his retirement today in Albuquerque, Rep. Heather Wilson is set to make her plans clear at an event tomorrow at her campaign office, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports.

A Wilson spokesman refused to comment on her plans, but her campaign has asked supporters to attend the 1:30 local time event. If Wilson decides to run for Domenici's seat, as expected, she would make a strong general election candidate in a state that is trending away from Republicans. Still, her seat would become a top target for Democrats who have long been frustrated by failed attempts to knock off the incumbent.

Domenici To Retire

The Fix, always first on the scene, reports this afternoon that veteran New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici is expected to announce his retirement tomorrow, throwing into play another once-safe Republican seat.

Domenici has long been said to favor Republican Rep. Heather Wilson to take over his seat. Wilson narrowly survived a strong challenge last year from New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, and as a seasoned campaigner representing a Democratic district would be a strong candidate in a general election. Congressman Steve Pearce, from northern New Mexico, may also be interested in a bid, setting up the potential for a nasty GOP primary.

The state's third Congressman, Democrat Tom Udall, ruled out a bid against Domenici but has yet to say no to a race for the open seat, leaving open the possibility that all three of the state's congressional seats could be up for grabs next year.

Spokespeople for the three members of Congress did not answer phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Madrid, too, is said to be contemplating a race, while New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, running for president, has shot down suggestions that he will leave the race to run for Senate. Activists Jim Hannan and Lelan Lehrman are already running, as is real estate developer Don Wiviott, who has already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his own campaign.

Domenici's departure, coming weeks after President Bush held a fundraiser for the longtime Senator in New Mexico, is another blow to Republicans. In recent years, the state has inched more Democratic, though neither Domenici nor Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, has seen a serious challenge for several terms. Incidentally, after a replacement is elected, Bingaman will no longer be saddled with the distinction of being the longest-serving Junior Senator in the Senate.

Democrats see a huge opportunity to pick up what has for decades been an untouchable seat. With the DSCC's financial advantage, which sits at more than two to one over the NRSC when debt is factored in, New Mexico becomes an automatic target for what could be millions of dollars in investments.