Rural Election Watch: New Mexico Senate


By Sean Reagan

Democratic Congressman Tom Udall is taking on Republican Steve Pearce, who narrowly defeated Heather Wilson in their hard-fought primary, in the race to replace retiring Republican Senator Pete Domenici who has held the seat since 1973.

Udall has politics in the blood. He’s got a couple of cousins in Congress – Mark Udall, who’s currently leading Bob Schaffer in their race for Colorado’s open Senate seat, and Gordon Smith in Oregon.

Polling last month gave Udall just shy of thirty-point lead of Pearce – a twelve-point bump over his lead in May. He’s got the base wrapped up and is tapping a quarter of Republicans right now.

Udall draws support from 86% of Democrats and from over a quarter (26%) of Republicans. Pearce wins just 69% of Republican votes. When it comes to voters not affiliated with either party, Udall has a commanding 46% to 27% lead, a major improvement from the ten-point lead he had last month.

Coming on the heels of a Republican primary in which both candidates (Pearce and Rep. Heather Wilson) spent gobs of money and battled tenaciously, that’s an impressive set of numbers for Udall.

Obama currently holds a six-point lead over McCain in the state.

Both parties are likely to pour plenty of resources into the state. New Mexico has given razor-thin margins to its Presidential victors in the last two cycles. Bush won by 6,000 votes in ’04 while Gore took it by just 365 votes in 2000.

And all three of New Mexico’s Representatives gave up their seats to run for the Senate, which means that 111th Congress is going to see all new faces from the Land of Enchantment. It’s going to be one of the most interesting states to keep an eye on heading into November.

It’s hard to imagine Udall holding onto such a commanding lead for the duration of the campaign. New Mexico is politically volatile landscape, and Republicans aren’t going to cede Domenici’s seat without an expensive – and probably ugly by the time we get to the end of it – fight.

Bob Benenson rates the Udall-Pearce race one of the top five for a likely Democratic pickup.

Running in a state that is split very evenly between the parties, Pearce is staking his hopes on persuading voters that Udall’s House record is too liberal. This race is rated Leans Democratic, which means Udall has an edge in a contest that still is highly competitive.

Look for the margin to narrow as summer turns to fall, but when the dust settles in November, it’s going to be Senator Udall.

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3 Responses to “Rural Election Watch: New Mexico Senate”

  1. This race along with all others, including, Wilson’s vacated CD1 race, must be won by tying GOP candidates to Bush through their support of his policies.  In the case of rural issues such as the Farm Bill, Pearce was in support of the bill.  Udall will have to find distinction from Pearce on other substantive issues.  The flip flopping of McCain as the front man for the Republican Party, on rural concerns must be exposed loudly by all rural advocacy sources. 

    There in lies another reality; rural people like personal attention and Pearce gives a great deal more attention than does Udall.  This could in the end, be Udall’s weakness.  Tight races are won and lost in the rural margins of America and that is never more true than New Mexico.

    The irony of these observations is that rural people care about the same things as urban people, but in the case of finite natural resources, rural people take nothing for granted and feel their depth of caretaking of the land on a more personal level.   With the recent Trigo and Big Spring fires, this has been a graphic example of governmental and political neglect and the ‘rural bitter’ pill.  Many of the people that lost their homes have owned their land for hundreds of years and ironically, the mountain areas where these fires occurred are heavy Democratic voters and yet, Udall has not spent one day visiting with the central to southern portion of the county where the fires occurred.

    Ultimately, there is no substitution for good old fashioned glad handing, time and attention.  It wouldn’t hurt either if Senator Bingaman campaigned for Udall in rural regions where Bingaman has great support.  Well, this is just another opinion for the experts.

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