Representing a District after 40 Years of Republican Domination: Martin Heinrich


For over a decade, New Mexico’s First Congressional District has been a tempting target for both political parties. In the 2008 election, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner advised Martin Heinrich in his successful campaign to be the first Democrat to represent central New Mexico in over 40 years. However, in 2010, the tough environment for incumbents and the split nature of the district meant that winning back this seat would be a top priority for the Republican Party.

In the summer of 2009, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a survey for the Heinrich campaign that clearly illustrated 2010 could be a very tough election for Democrats -- and for Heinrich it required careful and strategic planning. The research provided some clues as to the challenges the next election would provide. Independents had shifted their support to the Republicans and attacks on excessive spending had the potential to damage Heinrich’s standing. The research also showed, however, that voters saw their freshman Congressman as a man with integrity, who worked very hard for his district, something that set him apart from their negative image of Congress.

By understanding the shifting mood of the electorate early in the cycle, Heinrich’s team was able to prepare itself for the Republicans’ eventual attacks and avoid surprises. In conjunction with a talented team of consultants and staff, we advised the campaign to show how Heinrich is different from their image of Washington politicians by dint of his intense work ethic (returning home nearly every week, helping solve constituents’ problems) and his understanding of the struggles facing the middle class. 

In the final 10 days of the race, with Heinrich’s lead narrowing, our research discovered that voters’ impressions of Heinrich had started to drive the vote much more so than their impressions of Barela. Barela’s negatives were on the rise and his standing was worse than Heinrich’s, yet Heinrich’s lead was narrowing. Because of this, we urged the campaign to close its advertising with a final positive ad, featuring Heinrich making his own case as the candidate who would work hard to stand up for New Mexicans against the special interests.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner’s final poll showed Heinrich with a 2-point lead (very close to his eventual 52 – 48 percent victory), while two other polls showed Barela leading. In the end, good polling and strategy, effective ads, and a strong field program helped a very deserving candidate win election in a tremendously difficult environment.