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Monday, September 10, 2007
Dems Favor Denish Over Chávez for Gov.
By Leslie Linthicum
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
The election is almost three years away and one of the candidates hasn't even committed to running, but just for fun let's ask the question:
What if Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez faced off in a Democratic primary for governor today?
The results of a Journal Poll of New Mexico Democrats indicate Denish would win. And maybe by a bunch.
Half of those surveyed who said they're likely to vote in a 2010 primary said they would vote for Denish. Chávez had the support of 30 percent. The rest said it was too early to say.
Chávez, who is raising political money but hasn't said yet whether he'll run for governor, on Saturday called his numbers "remarkable."
"She's been campaigning full time for almost a year and I'm not even a candidate, so I'm very pleased. Those are good numbers," Chávez said.
Denish said she liked her numbers and said they are a sign of job approval.
"I've been just doing the work of the lieutenant governor, which takes in all of the state, corner to corner, rural and urban," said Denish, who has said she intends to run for governor. "I think these numbers reflect that people think I've done a very good job and that I'm a credible statewide candidate and they'd like me to be governor when the time comes."
Denish has increasingly served as acting governor since Gov. Bill Richardson announced his presidential candidacy in January and headed out on the national campaign trail, almost full time.
But Denish cautioned that the next governor's election is still a long way off. "It's early," she said. "I've always abided by the theory that a day is a lifetime in politics."
It's possible, if not likely, that more people will emerge as candidates for the Democratic governor nomination. The Journal Poll considered only the two most likely prospects so far.
Across the board
Denish led Chávez in nearly every category; her support dwindled only among the youngest voters. In a state where voters often choose candidates of their own race or ethnic group, Denish, an Anglo, did much better among Anglos than Chávez, who is Hispanic, did among Hispanics.
Denish had support among 40 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of Anglos. Chávez found support among 41 percent of Hispanics but only 19 percent of Anglos.
Denish's numbers were good almost everywhere in the state, with the strongest support coming from the conservative east side. But Denish, a Hobbs native who has lived in Albuquerque for 25 years, outshone Chávez even in his home turf of Albuquerque.
In the Albuquerque metro area, where he has been elected mayor three times, Chávez trailed Denish 29 percent to 54 percent in the Democratic voter survey.
Brian Sanderoff, whose Research & Polling Inc. conducted the Journal Poll, said the Albuquerque numbers are not good news for Chávez.
"You've got to come out of Albuquerque winning if you're the mayor of Albuquerque," he said.
Chávez said those numbers don't worry him.
"My expectation would be if you have someone who's been campaigning full time for almost a year and you have someone who hasn't even announced, that person would be ahead in every category, actually," he said.
He said his job requires him to work hard and make sometimes unpopular decisions while Denish has been able to use her position to launch her campaign.
"I have one of those jobs where you actually have to do things," Chávez said. "The lieutenant governor has a job that I think she would even concede doesn't require a lot of heavy lifting. Mayors make real decisions and if a mayor is doing his or her job, somebody is probably getting offended."
Denish described her role as the state's second in command as that of a problem solver and bridge builder.
"I've been working to bring people together who disagree on issues," Denish said. "And I think the issues I have been working on education, health care, job creation appeal to people across the board."
Sanderoff said Chávez might have suffered from a few recent controversies unpopular red light and speeding cameras, a smoking ban at parks and golf courses and public squabbles with the City Council. Denish, though, said she commissioned a poll in January and the results were similar.
Sanderoff also noted the poll reflected only the opinions of Democrats, and Chávez has always relied on support from Republicans to win in Albuquerque. But only the opinions of Democrats count in a state Democratic primary, he said.
The poll's good news for Chávez might be this: A lot of New Mexico Democrats haven't made up their minds. Twenty percent of those surveyed were undecided.
Denish, who benefits from more than five years of public exposure as lieutenant governor in a popular Bill Richardson administration, raised nearly $200,000 in the last fundraising quarter and reported about $800,000 in her campaign bank.
Chávez, who filed the paperwork for an exploratory committee not tied to any specific office in January, raised $133,000, mostly at one fundraising event. He said he's not sure whether he'll run for governor or seek another term as Albuquerque's mayor.
Chávez said he was confident his numbers for governor would rise if he announced and began to campaign statewide.
"Should I announce and should there be a campaign, it will be a very different thing," Chávez said.
Chávez ran for governor and lost against incumbent Republican Gary Johnson in 1998. His running mate that year? It was Denish.
The telephone poll of 407 registered Democrats in New Mexico who are frequent voters and said they will vote in the primary was conducted Sept. 4-6. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.