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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Get Your Bets Down; We're Going To Round Two; Heather By Three In 1st Poll; Patsy Positioned, But Must Rearm, Plus: Jeff, Steve & Tom On Easy Street 

A bare knuckled brawl featuring hyper-negative ads, millions more in campaign funds and even more national interest is about to unfold in the must-watch race for the ABQ congressional seat. The first independent poll {PDF} measuring support for GOP U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Democrat Patricia Madrid released Sunday shows Heather with a narrow three point lead. After six weeks of no-holds barred media campaigning by the two hopefuls, neither has put the race away. And that ends speculation that a "death blow" might be rendered early in a contest which could play a decisive role in which party controls the U.S. House and the course of future American policy on such vital issues as the war in Iraq.

"It was not unexpected," commented veteran ABQ Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff. "Everyone knew we were in a tight one and this confirms it."

The margin of error in the poll of 410 likely voters is 4.8%. Brian, as animated about a political race as I have heard him in decades, said he was also in the field longer than usual, from Aug. 25 thru Aug. 31.

Wilson is polling 45%, Madrid, 42%. Ten percent are undecided and 3% told the pollster they will vote for "neither." For Wilson, it's deja vu all over again. Since taking the seat in 98', she has rarely polled above the magic 50% re-elect number, but by Election Day she has closed the deal with little trouble, trouncing her last Dem challenger by nearly 10 points.

Why shouldn't that happen again? Sanderoff, who has been in the political game for 30 years, responded. "It is different this time, Joe. The unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war affords Madrid and the Democrats their best chance for victory. When you have a President whose approval rating is under 45%, (Sanderoff has Bush's NM approval rating down to 38%.) that is a formula for change. If Madrid is successful tying Wilson to Bush and Iraq she has a good chance to win." Declared Sanderoff.

But, Brian, I asked, if this is the year for change, why are we not seeing a marked difference in the way Madrid is polling from loser Richard Romero two years ago when, like Madrid, he was within shouting distance.

"The reason," Sanderoff analyzed, is the TV attack campaign Wilson has waged since mid-July. That campaign has kept Madrid from building any momentum. But, as we expected, the negative ads have not added to Heather's numbers and she remains under 50%. That means the race remains in play," he explained.

Sanderoff's analysis is borne out by the low job approval numbers for our dueling duo, with Patsy coming in with just a 45% approval rating and Heather at only 46%. Both candidates have a lot of work to do.

NUMBERS MANIA

Sanderoff
Sanderoff points out that Attorney General Madrid, twice elected statewide, is polling 54% of the Hispanic vote, too low for the win. Heather captures 35% of the Hispanic vote, again flexing her muscle with this traditionally Democratic group which has been an underpinning of her electoral success. But Wilson is only winning 17% of the Democrats' votes. She will need to up that total to around 25% to again enter the winner's circle. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 1st District by nearly 40,000, but in the past she has held her Republican base, won the independents and took at least 25% of the Dems to put her over the finish line.

As expected, Heather is carrying 52% of the Anglo vote, many of them R's. In the gender battle, Patsy gets the gals, winning 45% to Heather's 41%, while Heather smothers Patsy with the boys, 49% to 39%. That ten point spread leads me to believe that Madrid needs work with Hispanic male voters.

Another critical number and good news for Wilson is her continued power with voters over 65 years, the most reliable voting demographic and one that will represent a higher percentage of voters than usual in 06' because this is a mid-term election that draws fewer voters to the polls than a presidential year. Wilson has sealed the deal with a majority of them, getting 51% to Patsy's 39%. Madrid will now be pressured to stop the bleeding with the vital prune juice set.

PARTY BREAKDOWN

Patsy is winning 66% of the Dems, much less than Heather's 83% among her party's members. The obvious and not unrealistic hope for the AG's campaign is that she is positioned to pick up many more D's than Heather by November 7.

Sanderoff, addressing speculation that some R's could start peeling away from Heather because of the unpopularity of the Prez and the party nationally, said we can put that to rest. "She is getting 83% of the Republicans and that will probably go to near 90% by Election Day," he predicted. But will GOP turnout be traditional, or will softness show up as a lower turnout than usual and hurt Heather? That's just one of the many multimillion dollar questions in this hotly-contested, high-stakes battle.

Other polling tidbits include "self-reported liberals" who give Madrid 69% support, a number sure to grow. And Heather gets 66% of "self-reported conservatives," a number that should also go up, but maybe not as easily as Madrid's liberals.

Sanderoff is not in the prediction business, but I asked if he sees this one as a "toss-up" or "lean Republican," categories that have been used to describe this race by national pundits. "If there was a category in between those two, I would put it there," He summarized.

I don't swear by any poll, but Sanderoff's unique experience in this district and his sampling techniques separate him from the national pollsters. The theoretical margin of error may be 4.8%, but I see it more like 2.5%. Taking note of the "art" part of the polling science, he remarked: I feel good about this poll. It strikes me as just right."

THE STRATEGISTS CORNER

After I pored over the numbers with Sanderoff, I moved to the all-important strategy for the coming two months. For that I called in two hard-nosed, veteran political consultants and organizers who are familiar to my readers. Pollster and Democratic consultant Harry Pavlides, with 35 years of campaign experience and Steve Cabiedes, who has 20 years of experience under his belt with a specialty in field organization and voter turnout for both major parties.

Pavlides seized upon Heather's strength with the 65+ group, saying it is essential that Madrid keep Heather below 55% with this group Election Night. "She needs major media. Prescription drugs and Social Security are the key issues. Obviously, she needs to tie Wilson to Bush's unpopularity. I think they should have been doing more with the seniors earlier, but better late than never. Seniors have been Wilson's most reliable group. Patsy must make inroads.

"The Hispanic problem stands-out for Patsy," continued Pavlides who cut his teeth on the liberal politics of the 60's. Fifty-four percent support for a Hispanic Democrat like Patsy is not good. She can get more by appealing to Hispanics on economic issues; low wages, jobs and gasoline prices. The problem is mostly with Hispanic males. There is still a traditional bias among some older Hispanics that women don't belong in politics. She can erase that by playing the economic card. There are many patriarchal families where the primary breadwinner is the male. Like Heather, she needs to bring Hispanic males into her TV ads and her free media.

WE CAN'T GET ENOUGH!

What else, Harry? "Overall, it is Iraq. This will help her across-the-board. It must be relentless and non-stop. The ethics attacks on Patsy have not knocked her out. Her 42% is very likely her lowest number. I see her growing. She is not going to fade like other Democrats. There are too many issues breaking her way and she is a superior candidate," concluded the political pundit.

What about Heather, Harry? "She must continue the assault on ethics, but she needs fresh ammunition, a new line of attack to continue the doubts. There is really no other way to go. She must do all she can to keep the race on Patsy. Bush is poison.

And, if Heather finds herself in deeper trouble, Harry advised that she may have to consider a shift on the Iraq war.

"She may have to do more to separate herself from the President. The no-confidence vote coming up in the House on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld could be a way of showing that separation, but it is high-risk as it could appear insincere and desperate." So said Pavlides in a wee hours of the morning cell phone conversation.

THE LONG NIGHT AHEAD

Cabiedes is first with an Election Night prediction. "It is going to be a long night. Unlike previous Heather opponents, Madrid is going to grow, not recede. I would not be surprised if the final poll is 48% to 48%. It's coming down to turnout. Madrid must go all-out. They need to spend thousands on the field, paid coordinators for every zip code if they have to. They have to get the casual Democrat to the polls. I know that is said every year, and it usually fails, but Kerry won Bernalillo County by 10,000 votes with a field effort. It can be done.

Give us some more, Steve. "Most of the electorate is decided. I agree with Harry on how to handle the issues, except Iraq. Heather needs to say the hell with Iraq, stay the course and do all she can to avoid it becoming a dominant issue. Any obvious softening in her position will be seen as weakness and opportunism. Like Patsy, it's dam the torpedoes for Heather when it comes to turnout.

"But she has a bigger problem. There is almost zero interest in the race for Governor. That's the race that drives turnout. If Richardson is landsliding Dendahl, she could experience a drop in GOP turnout. She has done her own get out the vote efforts. This time she needs to redouble her efforts; personally knock on doors and increase her direct mail to targeted precincts. Her personal presence is needed more than ever. And even with all that, I still see a drift toward Madrid as nearly impossible to stop, barring a major error. That's why I see this one keeping us up late on Election Night," concluded Cabiedes.

Brian, Harry and Steve; you've outdone yourselves. Don't worry dear readers, they will be back during the many crucial moments to come in this fight-to-the-finish race for Congress.

JEFF, STEVE AND TOM

What can I say about the other NM congressional races, two U.S. House seats and one senate race? Not much. All three incumbents, Dem Tom Udall from the North, the GOP's Steve Pearce in the South and Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman are all going to win, unless hell freezes over or Monica Lewinsky shows up on one of their payrolls. Udall is getting an astounding 71% as newcomer Republican Ron Dolin (18%) loses R support for going against the Prez on the Iraq war. That, on top of an overwhelming Dem registration, spells doom. Give Dolin credit for being the thinking man's candidate, but Tom is doing his job and voters are going to reward him.

Jeff, in the senate since 83', is at 62% against opponent Allen McCulloch (23%). Bingaman has hit the glass ceiling. He's not going much beyond that number, but a landslide is a landslide. The liberal Dem is personally popular, has localized his tenure to NM, staying away from controversial, lefty issues and, like Udall, he shows up and does his job. Would you rehire an employee like that? Why not? Maybe McCulloch has an answer.

Pearce will have a blow-out too, unless Dem Al Kissling raises big money. Steve is getting 54% to Kissling's 29%. Pearce has the potential to grow several more, as he did two years ago.

THE BOTTOM LINES

And there you have the Big Blog. We'll keep this one up for today and Monday and come back Tuesday with more of the latest polls, including the Guv's race. And thanks to photog Mark Bralley for our exclusive pics of Heather and Patsy. For now, that's plenty of Labor Day picnic offerings for you political junkies to digest. Feel free to do so and if you like, drop me an email with your news and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
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