Is New Mexico Senate seat in play?

AT's political correspondent Rich Baehr sends along a shocking poll from the Albuquerque Journal that shows the once safe lead of incumbent Democratic Senator Tom Udall has disappeared and that his GOP challenger, Allen Weh, has closed the nearly 20 point gap to 7 points.

Baehr cautions that the poll may be an outlier. Indeed, the poll taken at about the same time shows Udall up by 16. But the Journal poll shows Weh making progress despite a heavy Democratic advantage:

Since September, Weh appears to have made gains by connecting with conservative voters, particularly in rural areas of the state, said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. But that has not resulted in deep cuts into Udall’s base of supporters, he said.

“Tom Udall has had a comfortable lead,” Sanderoff said. “The race narrowed as people began hearing Allen Weh’s conservative message, but getting to the point that the race could turn around, that would be a real uphill battle for Allen Weh.”

Sanderoff said the Senate race in New Mexico is probably affected by a “national mood” of dissatisfaction with a gridlocked Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama, but that national current doesn’t seem to have taken a major toll on Udall’s popularity in New Mexico.

As a result, national political groups looking to influence control of the Senate have not been active in the Udall-Weh campaign so far, Sanderoff noted.

Weh’s narrowing of Udall’s lead came as the Republican candidate improved his support, at least slightly, among Democratic voters.

Weh also showed slight improvement in his Republican base, with 81 percent of GOP members saying they backed the Albuquerque businessman and retired Marine colonel.

Udall’s support among Republicans lagged at 12 percent. But Udall showed strength among independents, or voters who decline to state a party affiliation.

The survey showed Udall with support from 53 percent of independents, compared with Weh’s 37 percent. Ten percent of independents were undecided.

Udall’s strength among independents is a shift after the September Journal Poll showed independents almost evenly split between Udall, at 41 percent, and Weh, at 38 percent. In September, 22 percent of independents remained undecided.

If there were more time before the election, outside groups might buy into Weh's candidacy. But Udall has the wind at his back thanks to his dominance with Hispanic voters and a magic name in New Mexico politics that has won his family elections for 50 years.

Anything can happen, but unless Weh can make inroads into Udall's core supporters, the Democrat seems likely to coast to an easy win.

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