Friday, September 19, 2008

New Mexico U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

New Mexico U.S. Senate

September 19, 2008
46 Days Until Election Day

Status: Open Republican
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

The Land of Enchantment may live up to its name this year as a Presidential battleground, but in the state's U.S. Senate contest, there is definitely a clear favorite.

Republican Pete Domenici, a political legend in the state, has held the seat for decades but is retiring after this term after having some health woes catch up with him. Before that announcement however, Domenici's standing in the state had taken a tumble because of a controversy related to his role in the firing of the state's U.S. Attorney. As his popularity numbers declined, Democrats began thinking they had a chance to seriously challenge him and when he did announce his retirement, at least a few Republicans wondered if that move might actually prove to be a blessing in disguise for Republicans. Nevertheless, after his decision to not seek reelection was made public, Domenici's poll numbers seemed to magically rebound.

So, with an open seat contest, many names were bandied about, and several Democrats entered the race and began campaigning in earnest. More interestingly though was the fact that all three of the state's U.S. House delegation gave up their seats in the lower chamber in order to run for the Senate. Democrats largely cleared out for Congressman Tom Udall, a member of a well-established political dynasty in the West, and Republicans were treated to a battle of the titans of a sort between Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Congressman Steven Pearce.

Wilson, a protege of Domenici, had won several tough contests in a Democrat leaning district before, but was caught up in the same sort of controversy as her mentor had brought about, and decided that a statewide race was a better gamble than another chance of holding a House seat, in what could be a strong Democrat year. Still though, her history of political victory made her appear to be a strong candidate in a state that is somewhat more Republican friendly than the district she represented. Pearce though was not deterred and to the dismay of those who had tried to bring about party unity, also entered the race. Pearce, who represents the most Republican portion of the state and who unsuccessfully ran in a Senate primary in 2000, two years before being elected to the House, ran somewhat to Wilson's right, and was able to win a close Republican primary. Since his victory, Pearce has had to work hard to try to unify the party, and an official endorsement by Domenici to be his successor, has only recently taken place.

In the meantime, Udall has had a much easier path to the general election. He has the advantage of being a former state Attorney General, and having won statewide before, in addition to wide name recognition and popularity among the state's numerous Hispanics and Native Americans. New Mexico has sent its fair share of Republicans to Capitol Hill, but Udall appears to have the right profile to break through.

Pre-primary polls tended to show Udall with a solid lead over both Republicans, and with Pearce appearing to run only slightly better against the Democrat than Wilson would have. After the primaries, Udall stretched out to an even bigger advantage, even flirting with a 30 point lead. Things have stablized a bit since then, with a recent Rasmussen Reports poll showing Pearce, who also appears to perhaps be a polarizing figure among voters in the state, rebounding to close the gap to a competitive seven points. However, a Survey USA poll from this week show Udall is still ahead by 15. Republicans are obviously hoping that Rasmussen is onto something that others are not.

New Mexico will be sending three newbies to Congress this year, but Udall looks in decent shape for a promotion.

Pearce campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 11 D, 12 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 50 D, 38 R


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