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New Mexico Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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New Mexico (Open Seat)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


October 17, 2008 Update:

It appears as though Steve Pearce’s rise in the polls late in the summer, cutting fellow Congressman Tom Udall’s lead into the single digits, was more of a blip on the ever-gloomy Republican radar screen then an encouraging trend. Udall’s large war chest continues to loom large as Pearce is still trailing financially after a brutal primary, and his lack of name recognition relative to Udall (he is a sitting Congressman, but his opponent has the famed Udall name to run on) has complicated Pearce’s ability to make this a truly competitive race. Things have gone to bad from worse, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee has all but left town after pulling a previously planned $2.3 million dollar ad buy. Udall’s poll numbers have been the strongest they have been at any point in the race, and at this point a landslide victory appears not only possible but likely.

Throw in Barack Obama’s growing lead in the polls, as well as the struggles Republicans are seeing in Senate and Congressional races across the country as a result of the economy and other national issues, and Pearce’s struggles against Udall seem to just bury him further. This race started out as anybody’s game, as all three of the Congressmen from the Land of Enchantment threw their hat into the ring to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. But the primary victory of the conservative Pearce over the more moderate and Domenici-endorsed Heather Wilson has given the GOP a nominee whose further-right ideology will quite likely doom the party’s chances in today’s political climate. As it stands now, less than three weeks out, both sides see this as a contest with one of the highest probabilities for a red-to-blue flip on November 4th.

June 4, 2008 Update:

Rep. Steve Pearce won the Republican nomination last night in a hotly-contested primary against his fellow New Mexico delegation member, Rep. Heather Wilson. Pearce garnered 51% of the vote, while Wilson took 49%. During the primary, Pearce portrayed himself as the more conservative choice, a strategy which allowed him to prevail in the end despite an eleventh-hour endorsement of Wilson by the man Pearce hopes to replace, retiring Sen. Pete Domenici.

In the November general election, Pearce will face the third member of the U.S. House from New Mexico, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall. Udall’s lack of a primary leaves him much better funded for the matchup, holding nearly $3 million to Pearce’s $250,000. The poll numbers also currently favor Udall, with most polls showing him between 50 and 60 percent and Pearce hovering in the mid-30s.

April 10, 2008 Update:

With two months out from the primary election, the GOP nomination battle between Representatives Heather Wilson (R-01) and Steve Pearce (R-02) shows no signs of winding down. Meanwhile, New Mexico’s final Congressman, Tom Udall (D-03) has dispatched with his primary challenge from Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez and can sit back and watch the Republican candidates lob haymakers at each other.

Even now, New Mexico Republican insiders concede that their primary remains too close to call. Representative Heather Wilson–long seen as the moderate heir apparent to Senator Domenici–has the tacit support (but not endorsement) of much of the party establishment, but her colleague, Steve Pearce, has captured the enthusiasm and support of the GOP grassroots. Both candidate’s sales pitches are predictable: Pearce touts his New Mexico conservative values, and Wilson argues that she alone can defeat Udall in the general. In the pre-primary posturing, Wilson has taken the position of aggressor, hitting Pearce on his supposed votes to close Cannon Air Force Base. Wilson’s aggression may be due to her extensive experience in tight races, but it could also reflect Pearce taking the lead in her campaign’s internal polling. On June 3rd, Wilson and Pearce should each win their own districts convincingly, and the race will come down to which candidate can win in Udall’s liberal 1st district–which Republicans haven’t contested in decades.

Udall, however, is well prepared to face whoever emerges from the bitter Republican primary. While Wilson and Pearce duke it out, Udall can keep his favorables high and warchest full. A February poll shows Udall with commanding advantages over both Pearce (53-31 percent) and Wilson (58-30 percent), and though these margins will narrow after Republicans have their nominee, there is no denying Udall’s frontrunner status. However, Udall should not rest too easy–his liberal record and votes to cut funding from Los Alamos National Laboratory will liabilities in a general election.

December 14, 2007 Update:

What a free-for-all! The retirement of longtime Sen. Pete Domenici (R) has led all three of New Mexico’s U.S. House members to throw their hats in the ring: Democrat Tom Udall and Republicans Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson. The Land of Enchantment is also the land of close presidential races, at least in competitive years, and this leads us to suspect that the Senate race is up for grabs. Should Gov. Bill Richardson end his presidential campaign at some point and seek the Senate seat, this would become a likely Democratic pick-up. Democrats may well win it anyway, and once the nominees are set we’ll reclassify this race, but for now, the only reasonable rating is TOSS UP.

November 19, 2007 Update:

Since incumbent Republican Senator Pete Domenici announced his retirement in early October, a bevy of candidates have revealed their intentions to run for his seat. Perhaps the most interesting development was that all three of New Mexico’s U.S. Representatives have thrown their hats into the ring.

On the Democratic side, NM-03 Representative Tom Udall is joined by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, although Udall released a poll taken in late October that showed him with a 50-30 advantage over the mayor in a primary matchup. Wealthy Democratic developer Don Wiviott has announced that he will instead run for the House seat Udall is vacating, ending his Senate campaign.

Republican voters will likely choose between NM-01 Representative Heather Wilson and NM-02 Representative Steve Pearce. Udall, however, has an advantage over both GOP contenders, with hypothetical general election matchups showing him leading Wilson 52-36 and Pearce 50-33.


Background

This race has all the elements to be a little bit more interesting that it normally would, given the potential atmosphere of the 2008 electoral season. Marred by recent scandal due to his supposed involvement in the U.S. Attorney firings, New Mexico’s longest serving Senator, Pete Domenici, may face a tougher battle than usual.

Though a long list of potential challengers has surfaced, the wealthy Santa Fe developer, Democrat Don Wiviott, merits particular attention, already pledging $400,000 of his own money, with hopes to spend close to $1 million on his campaign. These dollar signs go far in discouraging other potential challengers.

Though it is too soon for the pollsters to show any real leanings amongst New Mexico’s voters, Domenici’s current approval rating of only 51 percent provide a hint about what could shape up to be somewhat competitive race. In Domenici’s favor is his incumbency, length of service to New Mexico, and recent opposition t
o the Bush Administration Iraq policy. By distancing himself from his GOP counterparts on the very contentious Iraq issue, Domenici is battening down the hatches and preparing for the very nasty electoral storm looming on the horizon.

In New Mexico, a reliably unreliable state for both parties, there is no telling which way the political winds will blow in the 2008 election, but even when the winds are swirling, the political weather vane usually points to the incumbent.

Candidates

Tom Udall – Democrat – U.S. Congressman from NM-3
Website

Steve Pearce – Republican – U.S. Congressman from NM-2
Website