Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dems start out with modest lead in NM Senate race

The race to replace Jeff Bingaman in the Senate looks like it will be competitive but either Democratic candidate would start out with a small lead over the two Republican front runners.

Congressman Martin Heinrich leads former Congresswoman Heather Wilson 47-42 and Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez 45-39. State Auditor Hector Balderas leads Wilson 45-39 and Sanchez 39-35. Either of the Democrats would have a much wider lead over dark horse Republican candidate Greg Sowards: it's a 42-28 advantage for Balderas and a 46-34 one for Heinrich.

There are a lot more Democrats than Republicans in New Mexico, so for one of the GOP candidates to win this race would require a fair amount of crossover support from Democrats and a strong showing with independents. Wilson and Sanchez achieve the first of those things. Wilson gets 21% of the Democratic vote against Heinrich and 20% against Balderas while losing only 13% and 14% of the Republican vote respectively to her competitors. Sanchez similarly gets 19% of the Democratic vote against Heinrich and 16% against Balderas while shedding just 14% and 12% of the GOP vote to his foes.

While Wilson and Sanchez are getting the sort of crossover support they need right now, they're not where they need to be with independents. Wilson trails Heinrich by 12 points and Balderas by 9 with them. Sanchez does have a 2 point edge over Balderas with them, but trails Heinrich by 13. The Republicans will have to step up their performance with independents to have a chance at picking up the seat.

There's a wide range in how familiar voters in the state are with each of the leading candidates. Wilson's by far the best known candidate with 83% of voters having an opinion about her. That familiarity is not a good thing though, as 45% rate her unfavorably to only 38% who have a positive opinion about her. Heinrich is the next best known at 68% and voters split slightly favorably in their opinions about him at 36/32. Sanchez has 51% recognition with it breaking down a little bit unfavorably at 23/28. Only 39% of the electorate knows Balderas with his favorability at 22/17. And Sowards is the most obscure with 24% rating him.

Despite her negative favorability numbers and deficit to Heinrich in this poll there is some good news for Wilson. When we looked at New Mexico in February she trailed Heinrich 50-39 in a hypothetical contest. So she has gained some ground over the last few months. At the least it looks like the GOP will be more competitive here than it was in the 2008 Senate race. Democrats start out with the clear advantage but a 22 point blood bath ala last time around does not seem likely.

Full results here

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