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Berry has big lead, runoff is looking unlikely

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Incumbent Richard Berry has a commanding lead over his two opponents in this year’s mayoral race, with a month to go before Election Day, according to a Journal Poll.

Berry, a Republican in his first term as mayor, had support from 63 percent of likely voters in the telephone survey, conducted Sept. 3-5.

Pete Dinelli, a Democrat and former deputy city attorney, had support from 18 percent, and Paul Heh, a Republican and retired police sergeant, had 2 percent. Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they were undecided or wouldn’t say whom they support.

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which did the survey, said Berry “appears to be on his way to avoiding a runoff.”

The winning candidate in the Oct. 8 election must have at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election the following month with his closest competitor.

“I think the race will narrow,” Sanderoff said. “Most people still don’t know much about Pete Dinelli, in my mind.”

The poll, then, is probably the “high-water mark” for Berry, as it was conducted right before Dinelli launched a more intense advertising campaign, Sanderoff said.

“Dinelli made a strategic decision,” he said. “He saved his limited resources until the last month. … The question is, can a big push in the last month make much of a difference? Well, it’ll narrow things, for sure, but R.J. Berry is not going to give up in the last month, and he’s saved some of his resources, too.”

Dinelli is participating in Albuquerque’s public-financing system for campaigns. He was given about $350,000 to spend.

Berry has reported about $584,000 in cash fundraising so far. Heh has reported about $5,300.

Albuquerque municipal elections are nonpartisan, meaning there are no party labels beside candidates’ names on the ballot. If no one gets 50 percent of the vote on Oct. 8, a runoff election is tentatively set for Nov. 19.

Sanderoff said the nonpartisan format helps Berry, a Republican, in a “Democratic-leaning city where in partisan elections, more than eight out of 10 times, the Democrat wins.”

The survey shows Berry draws support across party lines. Even among Democrats, Berry had support from 41 percent of those surveyed, compared with 34 percent for Dinelli. Heh had 2 percent, and the remainder were undecided or wouldn’t say.

There’s almost no contest among Republicans, 88 percent of whom said they support Berry to 1 percent for Dinelli. Independents also favor the mayor by a wide margin.

Sanderoff said Berry’s support across party lines is “pretty impressive. Part of his political success is due to this nonpartisan election system that we have for mayor.”

In recent weeks, Dinelli has made it a point to stress his party affiliation as a Democrat and to brand Berry as a “Republican mayor.”

“It’s typically an advantage to be the Democrat in Albuquerque politics,” Sanderoff said, “and Dinelli is trying to convert this nonpartisan system into one where the voters can identify and recognize the candidates’ (party affiliation). That’s a smart political strategy.”

Berry doesn’t seem to have been hurt by the major controversies of his tenure, such as a spike in the number of people shot and killed by police. The U.S. Department of Justice last year announced an investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department.

“However, that has not impacted his popularity,” Sanderoff said.

a00_jd_14sept_POLL_PresidentIn a survey last fall, for example, Berry had an approval rating of 68 percent among likely voters.

Sanderoff said Berry doesn’t appear to be a polarizing figure.

“He hasn’t rocked the boat,” Sanderoff said. “He has a likable personality.”

About 26 percent of Albuquerque’s registered voters turned out in the 2009 mayoral race, when Berry defeated incumbent Martin Chávez, a Democrat, in a three-way race. Berry had about 44 percent of the vote that year.

Election rules at the time required a candidate to get only 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Avoiding a runoff this time, even with the higher standard, appears possible, based on the Journal Poll.

“I think Pete Dinelli is in an uphill battle to even make a runoff election between himself and the incumbent mayor,” Sanderoff said. “To do so, he not only has to pick up the lion’s share of the undecided, but he has to shift votes from Richard Berry. He needs to sway Berry’s supporters away from Berry and to his candidacy – or Paul Heh has to catch on.”

The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.

For the survey, 402 likely voters were asked: “If the election for mayor were held today, and the candidates were Richard J. Berry, Pete Dinelli, and Paul J. Heh, who would you vote for?”

The findings are based on telephone interviews of voters likely to vote in coming municipal elections who had also voted in an Albuquerque city election in 2011 or 2009. Interviews were conducted Sept. 3-5.

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