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Sunday, February 1, 2004
Kerry on Top in N.M.
By Michael Coleman
Copyright © 2004 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Washington Bureau
John Kerry has vaulted to the front of the Democratic presidential pack in New Mexico, while former front-runner Howard Dean is tied with Wesley Clark in distant second place, a Journal poll has found.
But 27 percent of the likely Democratic voters surveyed Jan. 28-29 were still undecided about whom to vote for Tuesday in New Mexico's first-ever Democratic presidential caucus.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, led the field with 31 percent of the likely voters choosing him over the seven others on Tuesday's caucus ballots.
Kerry pulled out a surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and won easily in the New Hampshire primary last Tuesday. He appears to have carried his momentum into New Mexico, where Democrats here and in six other states vote in caucuses and primaries on Tuesday. Kerry was leading in at least five of the seven states overall as of Saturday, according to polls.
"John Kerry has literally skyrocketed to the top over the past two weeks," said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, which conducted the Journal survey.
"Kerry has come from the middle of the pack and now has a comfortable lead in New Mexico," Sanderoff said.
"Howard Dean's disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, coupled with the well-publicized concession speech in Iowa, have some voters questioning his electability," Sanderoff said.
"Since so many of the Democrats are similar on the issues, many are looking for the candidate who is most electable and can unseat President Bush," Sanderoff said.
Coming from behind
In a Journal poll published Jan. 18, Kerry registered at 8 percent support among likely voters, trailing Dean, the former Vermont governor, and Clark, the retired general.
Dean, who led the field in the earlier Journal poll, is clinging to second place with a slight edge over Clark, according to the Journal poll. But the narrow margin meant the two were statistically tied.
Dean had the support of 15 percent of likely Democratic voters in the poll, while Clark was favored by 14 percent of those likely to go to the polls on Tuesday, the poll found. Dean led all contenders with 18 percent support in the Jan. 18 poll.
"Howard Dean has not picked up any support and, in fact, has lost some Hispanic support to Kerry," Sanderoff said.
Dean's support in the latest survey was strongest in north central New Mexico, including Santa Fe, and weakest on the more conservative east side of the state. Clark's support was fairly evenly spread across the state, but he polled strongest in metropolitan Albuquerque, home to many federal workers, veterans and Kirtland Air Force Base.
The most recent poll showed 13 percent of Hispanics supporting Dean, compared with 34 percent for Kerry.
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., had the support of 7 percent of those polled in the new Journal survey, while 3 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would vote for Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
Only 2 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would cast a ballot for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. However, Kucinich's support jumped to 6 percent in north central New Mexico, a liberal-leaning Democratic stronghold.
Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has dropped out of the presidential race but his name will appear on Tuesday's ballot in New Mexico. He had the support of 1 percent of likely Democratic voters in New Mexico, according to the poll. The eighth candidate, New York businessman Fern Penna, did not register in the poll.
Many remain uncertain
Sanderoff attributed the large number of uncertain voters to the fact that New Mexico switched to a Democratic caucus in February from a regular primary election in June, and voters are not accustomed to the new date.
The Journal poll conducted Jan. 28-29 has a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. It is based on random telephone interviews with 500 registered Democrats. Because the participation rate is uncertain in the new caucus, the poll sampled Democrats who voted in the last two primary and general elections, according to voting records.
Democratic candidates must receive at least 15 percent of the New Mexico vote Tuesday to win one or more delegates to the party's national nominating convention in July.
The New Mexico system is not winner-take-all: Twenty six of New Mexico's 37 delegates will be apportioned based on the results of the caucus. The remaining unpledged delegates are party officials and others called "superdelegates."