Gov. Susana Martinez led Attorney General Gary King by 9 percentage points in the first Journal Poll on the New Mexico governor’s race, hitting the coveted 50 percent mark before the fall campaign.
“It’s a comfortable lead, especially when you take into consideration the tremendous financial advantage the governor has,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.
The Republican governor, who is seeking re-election to a second four-year term, led the two-term Democratic attorney general in most regions of the state, including the Albuquerque area, the poll found.
Overall, 50 percent of New Mexico voters surveyed in the Journal Poll said they planned to vote for Martinez and 41 percent said they would vote for King. Nine percent said they were undecided.
The low number of undecided voters with more than two months remaining before the Nov. 4 general election is likely due to the fact that both Martinez and King are familiar public figures, Sanderoff said.
“I think a lot of people have already made up their minds,” he said.
King led in the poll among Hispanic voters, with 56 percent support, while more than one-third of those voters – 36 percent – said they would vote for Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor.
Meanwhile, roughly one out of every five Democratic voters polled said he or she would vote for the Republican incumbent, with 12 percent of Democrats remaining undecided. Fewer than 10 percent of Republican voters said they would vote for King.
Martinez led – 55 percent to 35 percent – among voters who decline to state a party affiliation, with those so-called independents making up a fast-growing segment of the state’s voting population.
Crossover support from Hispanic Democrats was a key factor in Martinez’s 2010 election victory, Sanderoff said, along with strong backing from Republican Party faithful.
Martinez led in the Journal Poll among both male and female voters, though her support was stronger among men.
Fifty-four percent of male voters said they would vote for Martinez, compared with 40 percent for King. Forty-six percent of the female voters said they backed the incumbent, compared with 41 percent for King.
Voters in all regions of the state but one were more likely to favor Martinez than King. The exception was the north-central area, a traditional Democratic stronghold that includes Santa Fe, Española and Taos, where King led the Republican governor 59 percent to 30 percent.
Martinez led King 50 percent to 43 percent in the Albuquerque area, while her strongest percentages statewide hit 61 percent in both the northwestern and eastside regions.
Money and odds
King, the son of the late Bruce King, who served three nonconsecutive terms as New Mexico governor, has struggled to keep up with Martinez in fundraising.
Although King has already made personal loans of more than $500,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, he reported having just $116,018 in his campaign war chest as of last month, compared with $4.3 million for Martinez.
Without a major infusion of cash, King could struggle to spread his campaign message, Sanderoff said.
“There’s some ammunition out there for Gary King,” Sanderoff said, referring to the state’s sluggish economy and employment levels. “But, as of yet, he’s been unsuccessful in tying those things to the governor.”
Meanwhile, the 50 percent backing level for Martinez is significant since that means King would likely have to peel off Martinez supporters and receive the votes of almost all undecided voters to defeat the incumbent governor, Sanderoff said.
He described the general election as an “uphill battle” for King, who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination by receiving about 35 percent of the vote in a five-way primary election contest in June.
In campaign ads, Martinez has criticized King for past legislative votes, including a 1987 tax increase. She has also claimed King would, if elected, recycle the policies of her predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.
In return, King has blasted Martinez for the state’s low ranking on national child well-being studies. He has said that, if elected, he would increase the state’s minimum wage and seek to spend more of the state’s budget on public schools.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 606 voters who voted in the 2010 general election and said they were likely to vote again this year.
The poll was conducted Aug. 12-14. The full voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
Research & Polling Inc. generated a stratified random sample in which each New Mexico county received a representative proportion based on turnout patterns in the 2010 general election for governor.
When necessary, RPI weights the surveys to reflect the known distribution of age, gender and party affiliation, based on the 2010 election. Racial and ethnic proportions are based on RPI estimates of turnout patterns.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both landlines (70 percent) and cellphone numbers (30 percent) of proven general election voters were used.
Voters who reported they are unlikely to vote in the coming election were screened out.