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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh My! As Close As It Can Get; Journal Poll Shows Dead Heat in Heather-Patsy Race; Fasten Your Seat Belts For Final Act Of High Drama 

The smell of blood turned into an actual sighting of the red stuff in the wee hours of Sunday as computer screens coast-to-coast flashed the news that apparently for the first time ever ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson failed to hold the lead in an Albuquerque Journal poll. The four term congresswoman, according to the survey, is in a dead heat with Dem rival Patricia Madrid with each garnering 44% of the vote, 7% undecided and 5% saying they would not vote for either.

"This is the real deal," longtime Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff told me. "There is real movement toward Madrid in key groups--Hispanics and Democrats."

The margin of error for the poll is 5%, but Sanderoff said because of the movement in the particular groups, the race is a dead heat. His survey showing the Dem drift toward the NM attorney general confirms movement in the same groups shown by Democratic pollster Harry Pavlides who Thursday released a survey to this blog showing Madrid ahead of Wilson by one point.

The polling stunner makes the battle for the ABQ congressional seat one of the tightest in the nation, if not the tightest, and makes more realistic the possibility that the seat could go to the Dems for the first time in history. The complete Journal poll story is here. {PDF}

"It is Iraq and the President's unpopularity. Those are the key issues. The race has become a referendum on Wilson and her ties to those issues." said Sanderoff of his survey which was taken Sept. 25-28.

HEATHER'S HISTORY

Rep. Schiff
Wilson took the seat in a special election in June 1998 when she replaced GOP Congressman Steve Schiff who died of skin cancer. She won her first full two-year term in November of that year, defeating Dem Phil Maloof. Sanderoff said he could not recall Wilson ever being tied or behind in any poll he conducted in those contests, or the others Wilson has faced since. Neither can I.

Wilson's foe two years ago came within one point in a poll, but that race had a completely different set of circumstances and the race was not seen by analysts as truly in play. This time it's different.

Especially worrisome for the Republicans is the millions of dollars they have already poured into TV ads faulting Madrid for allegedly failing to pursue ethics problems among state officials. The ads may have helped keep Madrid from surging into the lead, but they have not stopped the slow drift toward her. In the first Journal survey, taken in late August, Heather had 45% of the vote and Patsy came in with 42%.

The stark reality of Iraq war casualties and the growing feeling in the district that the nation is bogged down in a Vietnam type, no-way-out conflict is preventing Wilson from defining the race.

"This race is clearly about the war and what is going on in the nation, not here," analyzed Sanderoff.

WHAT NOW?

The R's can be expected to come with a full-borne attack operation to stop a death blow in the form of the majority Democrats coming home even more to their party's candidate.

In that regard, Sanderoff said the news is somber for Wilson as she failed to get anywhere near the 25% of D's she must have in order to win. She is now getting only 11% of them and Madrid is getting 74%, up eight points since the late August survey. Hispanics, a heavy Dem group, are also coming home, with Madrid garnering 58% of them--up four points--to Wilson's 29%, a drop for her of six points.

There is much time for much to happen. In the past the undecided has broken towards Wilson, but at this point they are not. If that trend continues only minimally, the seat will turn.

With a poll showing Madrid in a position to win, Wilson will not only have to worry about Iraq and Bush, she will also have to worry about the prospect of a Democratic Party becoming even more energized over a possible upset which could boost Dem turnout. In a district with 39,000 more D's than R's, that would be the nail in the coffin.

We'll have more on all this Monday, so be sure to stop by.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
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