ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — According to the results of a new poll, Democrat Martin Heinrich and former Republican Heather Wilson are the front-runners in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Democrat Jeff Bingaman.
The poll conducted by a firm for the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/MP7Gxp) shows that 51 percent of the people who were surveyed support Heinrich, a two-term congressman.
Twenty-six percent backed Democratic State Auditor Hector Balderas, while 23 percent remain undecided.
The survey found 66 percent support Wilson, a former congresswoman.
Las Cruces businessman Greg Sowards was backed by 20 percent, and 14 percent were undecided.
The statewide poll of 741 Democratic primary voters and 504 Republican primary voters was conducted May 21-24 by Research & Polling Inc.
The survey of the Democrats had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. The poll of the Republicans had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The Journal also surveyed voter opinions on candidates in the hotly contested Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District.
In that race, state Sen. Eric Griego and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham were about even in the race for the Democratic nomination. The poll of 413 Democratic primary voters found that both were supported by 33 percent of the voters who were surveyed.
Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez trailed with 20 percent of the vote. About 14 percent of the Democrats were undecided.
Results for the district-wide sample of Democratic voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
The Democrats are vying to replace Heinrich.
The winner will face former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination on June 5.
In the U.S. Senate race, Heinrich and Wilson are the better-known candidates in their respective primary election contests and have substantially outspent their opponents.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said one key factor in Heinrich's advantage over Balderas is Heinrich's dominance in the population-heavy Albuquerque metro area.
Other factors are Heinrich's strong support from Anglo voters and holding his own among Hispanic voters, despite Balderas' Hispanic heritage, Sanderoff said.
"The reason Heinrich is doing so well is because he's strong in his home base of Albuquerque and is competitive among Hispanics," Sanderoff said.
Sanderoff noted that Balderas' role as a state auditor is a fairly obscure one, though Balderas has been involved in some high-profile public audits over the years and most recently in the scandal-plagued border community of Sunland Park.
With limited campaign funds to run against the better-known Heinrich, Sanderoff said, Balderas "has faced an uphill battle."
The Heinrich-Balderas primary election has been free of negative campaigning. But Heinrich had outspent Balderas $1.7 million to $744,784 as of May 16, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Wilson is the better-known candidate in her primary election contest.
"Sowards is virtually unknown statewide," Sanderoff said.
Wilson had spent about $1.6 million on her Senate race by May 16, compared with $592,674 by Sowards.
Wilson led Sowards in all voter categories and all regions of the state in the Journal Poll. She polled more strongly among male voters than female.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.