Friday, February 26, 2010

NM Congress Trio In 2010 Polling Spotlight; Two Ahead & One Behind; Analysis From Across The Spectrum, Plus: Dr. No And Your Taxes 

Lujan, Heinrich & Teague
The stream of polling we get this year won't always send political hearts aflutter as it did this week, but the first round of anything is always the most exciting and so it was this week as we received the first batch of numbers in all the major races for the 2010 cycle.

The final round of Public Policy Polling covering the three NM US House seats didn't deliver any major surprises but did provide plenty of food for thought. (Complete poll--horse race plus crosstabs here.)

ABQ Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich beats GOP rival Jon Barela 45% to 36%. That is below the key 50% mark, but still a pretty comfortable position for an incumbent in a year such as this. The Barela campaign is hanging its hopes on the independent numbers. He leads in that disgruntled group 44-31. Heinrich is pulling 73% support among Dems, a good number in the early going in the majority Dem district.

Heinrich is the solid favorite, but Barela has reason to argue to national party types not to write this race off. Now if he could only raise some money from the numbers.


In that hot contest down south, the PPP poll confirmed the numbers released earlier in the week from an internal campaign poll done by GOP hopeful Steve Pearce. PPP scores 43% for Steve, while incumbent freshman Dem Harry Teague gets 41%. Pearce's poll had him leading 48% to 44%.

Pearce leads Teague 51% to 41% among independents, a key number for the challenger and one that Harry needs to improve on. It has been balky independents giving Dems headaches nationwide.


The northern congressional seat is notoriously difficult to poll and the PPP numbers need to be looked at with that in mind. Dem freshman Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is given a 42% to 36% lead over Farmington's Tom Mullins. Adam Kokesh is competing with Mullins for the GOP nomination. Lujan scores a 40-32 lead over him.

The Lujan numbers are low in this heavily Dem district, but some voters are difficult to reach via telephone or resist taking part on such surveys.

The PPP pollsters think Lujan is positioned well, but they report his unfavorable rating in the Feb. 18-20 poll is a high 40%. Just 31% giving him a good rating.

Insiders speculated over that. Was it a poor polling sample? Is Ben Ray taking a hit over his father, House Speaker Lujan, who was front and center during this poll presiding over a failed legislative session? Are liberals jumping ship, concerned that Obama and Lujan are not getting the job done on health care?

It's enough to make any freshman nervous, including Lujan, who does not need a Green Party candidate entering this race and peeling off precious Dem votes in the very heavy Dem district. So far there is none in sight.


Veteran NM pollster Brian Sanderoff expressed concern to me this week over the favorable/unfavorable ratings in this poll because they are all over the map. He also believes Big Bill's approval rating is higher than 28%, but it has declined. Sanderoff and I agreed that the big picture the poll shows has more significance. So beware the spinners who are trying to completely destroy the credibility of this survey.

The poll comes at a tricky time. The state's three congressmen are all seeking re-election for the first time. They will never be more vulnerable. And then there is the almost unprecedented political backdrop of a sour economy and angry voters.

While it is evident Teague has his hands full, there are going to be many sleepless nights for Heinrich and Lujan this year as these relative political neophytes try to navigate waters that would challenge even the most wily veteran.


The polls this week indicate that New Mexicans penchant for ticket splitting is still alive and well, despite the Dem sweep of 2008. The Governor's race showing Pete Domenici Jr. trailing Dem Diane Denish by only five--45-40--and the Pearce lead down south confirm that.


Domenici's camp described themselves as "ecstatic" over that poll showing him on the tail of Denish, but the euphoria didn't last long. Domenici came in dead last in a straw poll taken in Clovis Thursday night among those attending a debate between the five Guv candidates. Susana Martinez apparently rocked the house, packed with tea party types. She won 42% of the 139 votes cast; Allen Weh got 18%; Doug Turner 16%; Janice Arnold-Jones 12% and Domenici 11%. The group sponsoring the debate call themselves the High Plains Patriots. The Clovis News-Journal wrapped up the event.


The Politico's Josh Kraushaar covers our region for the DC based Web site and came with this. The money graphs:

The polls show Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) trailing former GOP congressman Steve Pearce, freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) sporting an upside-down approval rating, and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) with unspectacular approval numbers.

New Mexico Democrats also can’t rely on President Obama to boost their support, as the president’s job disapproval rating is higher than his approval rating in both Teague’s and Lujan’s districts. In Heinrich’s district, as many voters (47 percent) disapprove of his work as approve (47 percent).


Not surprisingly, Big Bill's office is taking issue with the PPP poll finding him with a dismal approval rating of only 28 percent. They fault the methodology of the poll and come with this statement:

It's difficult to take this poll seriously when we’ve never heard of the pollster and he relies on unscientific polling methods with untrustworthy results.

A recent scientific poll, not commissioned by the Governor, showed his personal favorability at 44 percent, which is more consistent with other polls in recent months.

Obviously, Governor Richardson has had to be a leader during the budget crisis, cutting spending and ordering employee furloughs in order to balance the budget. The Governor was elected to do what’s in the best interest of all New Mexicans, and that's what he's doing.


We need to clarify how the PPP poll was taken. We blogged Thursday that it did not use a list of registered voters. But PPP's Tim Jensen emails in from headquarters in Raleigh, NC:

We do poll registered voters and do not use random digit dialing. For the poll we conducted over the weekend those called were people who had voted in at least one of the last three even year general elections.

If you'll review the polling from the 2008 election in New Mexico you'll see we came within two points of getting the final outcome right, while no other pollster came within five.

And a New Mexico GOP campaign operative of long experience describes the issue with automatic calling by PPP:

If you look at their poll scripts, there aren't any screener questions (are you registered to vote, likely to vote, etc)...they just accept whomever answers the phone and starts pushing buttons. These type of public polls are really just cheap ways for these companies to promote themselves.

Whatever the case, most everyone agrees that the polls--automated or otherwise--show the general direction of the races and the mood of the electorate. But they are, as the pollsters are fond of saying, only a snapshot in time.


Was that a hint of flexibility we detected on the part of state Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith when it comes to nudging up the tax on the wealthy to help solve the state's epic revenue shortfall?

The good doctor was asked what tax hikes are still in play as the legislative leadership seeks a budget deal before the start of the special session Monday.

"The ones that were in play before are still in play," he said, referring to proposals to increase the state's gross receipts tax rate, impose a sales tax on certain "non-nutritional" food items and enact a surtax on higher earning New Mexicans, among others.

That surtax won approval in the more liberal House during the recent 30 day session, but died in the senate.

Smith is now saying that the shortfall for the budget year starting July 1st could be more on the order of $800 million than the $500 to $600 million previously estimated.

Is that now gargantuan number what Smith needs for cover to finally begin the process of "sharing the pain" of this budget wreck among all taxpayers, including the well-off?

The AP reported that the House measure imposes a 1.5 percent surtax on upper-income New Mexicans for three years. Married couples would pay the surtax on taxable income of more than $200,000 if they file joint returns. Single taxpayers would pay the surtax on income of more than $133,000. The surtax would provide $67 million next year. The bill passed 36-32.

Democrats in support of the surtax argue that the party is dangerously out of touch with the populist mood of the electorate. Increases in the gross receipts tax--which will likely also be part of any budget solution--impact lower income taxpayers most. If the Dems don't also touch the well-off, they risk losing support among their base voters.

While Governor Richardson has been implacable when it comes to rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthy he won in 2003, he could conceivably support the surcharge as it does not tamper with those rates. House Speaker Lujan, Bill's major legislative ally, is in full support. That indicates the Guv could agree to the surtax.

Thanks for checking in here this week.

Email your news and comments.

Reporting to you from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I'm Joe Monahan.

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