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Wilson leads big in GOP Senate primary, poll finds

U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

Wilson had the support of 59 percent of those surveyed to John Sanchez’s 17 percent and Greg Sowards’ 2 percent

Heather Wilson has a commanding lead over other declared and likely candidates for the GOP nomination for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat, according to a new, independent poll.

Wilson led her closest opponent in the poll by 42 points. She had the support of 59 percent of those surveyed to John Sanchez’s 17 percent and Greg Sowards’ 2 percent. Some 11 percent of those surveyed said they preferred another candidate, and another 11 percent were undecided. From the survey:

“Heather Wilson’s support also demonstrates strong intensity, with 37% responding as ‘definitely voting for her,’ compared to 9% definitely voting for John Sanchez.”

Like Wilson, Sowards has formally entered the race. Sanchez has not, but he says he’s seriously considering it. Many sources expect him to run.

The poll was conducted by the GOP firm Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies. It surveyed 801 likely GOP 2012 primary voters on Tuesday and Wednesday, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

The poll didn’t include little-known William S. English, who has also entered the race.

The polling company said it “does not have a business relationship with any candidate or group interested in the 2012 New Mexico U.S. Senate Republican primary” and it paid for the survey with its own resources.

Read the poll memo here.

Remarkable support for Wilson

Though it’s still very early in the race – the primary is 13 months away – the survey is rather remarkable for Wilson, who narrowly lost a divisive GOP U.S. Senate primary to Steve Pearce in 2008.


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Some 84 percent of those surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Wilson, which includes 55 percent who have a very favorable opinion of her. Only 12 percent said they view her unfavorably. Wilson’s name recognition was 99 percent among those surveyed.

Wilson had huge leads in every congressional district, among men and women, and among seniors, who the polling memo states historically make up 39 percent of the Republican primary vote.

Notably absent from the Senate poll was Pearce, who hasn’t ruled out a Senate run but who most sources consider unlikely to get into the race. The survey did test Pearce’s approval rating and found it to be lower than Wilson’s, but still high. Some 77 percent said they view him favorably, including 45 percent who viewed him very favorably. Some 17 percent said they view him unfavorably.

Like Wilson, Pearce’s name recognition was 99 percent.

Sanchez was viewed favorably by 58 percent of those surveyed, including 22 percent who said they view him very favorably. Some 13 percent had an unfavorable opinion. His name was recognized by 88 percent.

“One problem for a potential Sanchez candidacy is that although he is well known by primary voters, it is not translating into ballot support,” the poll memo states. “Among 460 respondents that have a favorable opinion of John Sanchez, 55% would vote for Heather Wilson and 27% would vote for John Sanchez.”

Some 41 percent of those surveyed had never heard of Sowards, who isn’t well known outside the 2nd Congressional District – a U.S. House seat he has twice sought. Some 21 percent of those surveyed said they view Sowards favorably, and 15 percent said they view him unfavorably.

For Sowards, an active tea party member who ended the last reporting period with more than $150,000 in the bank, the lack of name recognition could be an opportunity to craft his own image – an opportunity Sanchez may not have.

Susana Martinez

Martinez is even more popular than Wilson

The poll found an even greater level of support among GOP primary voters for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez than Wilson. Some 93 percent of those surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Martinez, with “a remarkable” 75 percent having a very favorable opinion.

“The intensity of her favorability rating exceeds Heather Wilson’s by 20 points and John Sanchez by 53 points,” the poll memo states. “An endorsement from Governor Martinez in the U.S. Senate Republican primary would clearly carry some weight for any candidate.”

Thus far, Martinez has given no indication that she plans to endorse.

Update, 10:15 a.m.

Sowards’ campaign put out a news release calling the poll results good news for him and going on the offensive. His statement:

“The robo-poll shows that a significant majority of primary voters (63%) have yet to definitely commit to former Congresswomen Wilson, while only 9% are ready to commit to Lt. Governor Sanchez who just recently got elected.

“The overall lack of support for Wilson and Sanchez reflects what we are hearing on the campaign trail. Republicans believe both Wilson and Sanchez to be cut from the same liberal ideology.”

“Wilson has a liberal record of voting for unsustainable government spending, like the Wall Street bailout while she was in Washington, D.C. Sanchez shares Wilson’s penchant for liberal Republicanism. One look at Sanchez’s record shows that he was supportive of the unions while in the state legislature, voting 60% of the time to support legislation than benefited a union. Sanchez was also guilty of hiring illegal immigrants for his business, forcing the INS to investigate on more than one occasion.

“Republicans in this state are conservative. I am the only truly conservative candidate in this race. … I’m the only conservative that can win the primary and go on to win the general election. This robo-poll shows that a majority of voters are looking for someone other than Wilson and Sanchez. I am that candidate.”

This article has also been updated for clarity.

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2 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. There is little doubt that Heather Wilson is the best Republican candidate for the Senate. Congressman Steve Pearce’s current ranting and his outrageous town meetings should turn off voters. One attendee, who disagreed with Pearce’s anti-lizard rhetoric, was shouted down by the partisan crowd. He described his experience to the Albuquerque Journal: “They are acting like Nazi rabble-rousers” Congressman Pearce is going off the deep end!

  2. The results are no surprise given Magellan’s sample of potential GOP voters.

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