Congressional race tightens

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Independent vote breaking heavily for Republican Tom Mullins

By Jay Miller

Could there be a huge upset in the 3rd Congressional District this year? The little bit of polling that has been done makes the race appear to be one of the closest of the state’s major contests.
The Albuquerque Journal has polled the races for governor and the 1st and 2nd congressional districts twice already this fall but has omitted polling the 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democrat Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.
Republican Tom Mullins of Farmington has received no financial help from the Republican National Committee, which didn’t even bother congratulating him on his primary election victory when it congratulated the winners in the other two districts.
When House Republican leader John Boehner visited New Mexico to help raise funds for congressional candidates Jon Barela and Steve Pearce, he ignored Tom Mullins.
But a poll recently conducted by the Daily Kos, a popular left-leaning website, shows Lujan leading Mullins by a margin of only 49 percent to 43 percent.
That’s closer than the seven point difference the Journal found for Rep. Martin Heinrich over Jon Barela or the lead of Susana Martinez over Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
So why is no one paying attention to Tom Mullins? Well, the 3rd Congressional district is 55 percent Democrat and only 28 percent Republican. It is the district Gov. Bill Richardson first held and Sen. Tom Udall most recently held.
In between, Republican Bill Redmond was elected to complete Richardson’s term when he became our United Nations ambassador. It was a low-turnout special election, with a Green Party candidate also in the race and a Democratic nominee with ethics issues. Eighteen months later Udall beat Redmond handily.
Two years ago, Rep. Lujan won election by a 57-43 margin. It was a comfortable victory but not as big as might be expected with almost a 2-1 voter registration margin.
What is holding Lujan back from going well over the magic 50 percent figure? It’s that 17 percent that aren’t Republicans or Democrats. They are breaking heavily for Mullins.
There also is some restlessness among Democrats in Lujan’s home area. His father, state House Speaker Ben Lujan, won an extremely close primary election race against a fellow Democrat last June.
Rep. Lujan has not stirred up any controversy in his first term as a member of Congress. He and his staff have worked tirelessly handling constituent services and protecting the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis.
But still, Tom Mullins has done well on his own. Is there any chance a big effort on the part of the state and national GOP might put him over the top?
Reports indicate the Republican National Committee is having to borrow money to keep afloat. But some independent expenditure committees authorized by a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court are bringing in tons of money.
Former George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove has a committee that is giving $50 million to Republican Senate challengers in key districts. With a little of that money, Mullins might get some bump. He says his internal polls show him only 3-5 percent behind.
Mullins has been active with the Tea Party. Maybe Sarah Palin could weigh in for him as she has done for governor candidate Susana Martinez and congressional candidate Steve Pearce.
But GOP leaders give no sign of thinking the race is winnable. And they’re not likely to pass up any good deals in their effort to regain a majority in the U.S. House.
Since Lujan is so close to 50 percent, in the one poll we have seen, Mullins would have to take almost all of the 8 percent undecided voters to pull it out.
But the Albuquerque Journal appears to be trying to cover that race a little better. A few days after release of the Daily Kos poll, the paper ran four lengthy articles on the race beginning at the top of the front page of its Sunday edition.

Jay Miller insidethecapitol@hotmail.com