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With only about two weeks left before Election Day, state Auditor Tim Keller has a comfortable lead in the Albuquerque mayoral race, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid a runoff, according to a Journal Poll.
Nearly a third of likely voters contacted have yet to make up their minds.
Keller, a Democrat and one of eight candidates on the mayoral ballot, had support from 25 percent of likely voters in the telephone survey, conducted Sept. 11-14.
Attorney Brian Colón, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, and City Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, were running neck and neck. Colón had support from 14 percent, and Lewis had 13 percent. Rounding out the top four was Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican, who was favored by 7 percent of likely voters.
The four remaining candidates each polled at 4 percent or below.
An additional 4 percent of voters are leaning toward voting for Keller, 5 percent for Colón, and 3 percent each for Lewis and Johnson.
“The bottom line is we still have nearly one-third of the people who are undecided, and I think the outcome of the race is still up in the air,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., the firm that conducted the scientific survey. “A lot will depend on the strategies of the second-tier candidates and who they decide to attack in negative campaigning.”
This is the first time in 20 years that an incumbent isn’t on the mayoral ballot. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on Oct. 3, the two who have the highest vote counts will advance to a runoff election in November.
Albuquerque municipal elections are nonpartisan, meaning a candidate’s party affiliation won’t appear on the ballot. Nevertheless, the poll shows that party affiliation is playing a role in this election, and that is working in the favor of Democrats, who make up 46 percent of registered city voters. Republicans are 30 percent, and independents and others represent 24 percent of the city electorate. Republicans and Democrats, however, are more likely to vote in city elections, which is reflected in the demographic composition of the poll, Sanderoff said.
Among likely Democratic voters, 38 percent supported Keller, 18 percent Colón, 2 percent planned to vote for Lewis and 1 percent for Johnson. Conversely, among likely Republican voters, 26 percent supported Lewis, 16 percent supported Johnson, 12 percent Colón and 8 percent Keller.
Keller, meanwhile, performed exceptionally well among likely voters with graduate degrees, with 40 percent of them supporting him.
The poll also shows that Keller is doing least well in the far Northeast Heights and doing best in Democratic stronghold areas such as the North Valley and Downtown.
Colón was doing well among likely Hispanic voters, garnering support from a quarter of them. And Sanderoff noted that he had support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“A lot of people support Colón because they’re impressed with his humble beginnings and his pulling himself up from the bootstraps story,” Sanderoff said.
Sanderoff said the election likely hinges on the strategies the campaigns decide to employ from here on out.
“Will the Republican strategy be to pound Tim Keller, who you might drop from first place to second place, but the odds are it would be hard to get him out of first or second place, or maybe the strategy will change where Republicans might go after Brian Colón to try to take that second position?” Sanderoff said. “… What this race is all about is keeping anybody under 50 percent so there will be a runoff.”
The top four candidates still have plenty of cash in their campaign war chests.
Keller, the only publicly financed candidate in the mayoral race, received nearly $343,000 in city funds to run his campaign. He had about $118,000 left in the bank as of Sept. 7. A political committee dubbed ABQ Forward Together that formed to help get Keller elected had already raised $209,000 and still had $174,000 in the bank.
Another committee, called Make Albuquerque Safe, however, has already launched attack ads against Keller, but his campaign came out swinging and victim advocates rallied behind him.
Colón, meanwhile, has already raised more than $750,000 for his mayoral run and had $219,000 in the bank as of Sept. 7. Lewis had $194,000 in the bank, while Johnson had $219,000.
For the survey, 516 likely voters were asked: “If the election for mayor of Albuquerque were held today and the candidates were Ricardo Chaves, Brian Colón, Michelle Garcia Holmes, Wayne Johnson, Timothy Keller, Dan Lewis, Gus Pedrotty and Susan Wheeler-Deichsel whom would you vote for?” The order of the candidates was randomized.
Garcia Holmes, a retired detective and former attorney general chief of staff, was favored by 4 percent of likely voters. Pedrotty, a Democrat and recent University of New Mexico graduate, had support from 3 percent; businessman Ricardo Chaves, a Republican, and Wheeler-Deichsel, co-founder of Urban ABQ, were each polling at 1 percent. Garcia Holmes and Wheeler-Deichsel are both independents.
Chaves, who lent his campaign more than $500,000, still had just under $300,000 cash on hand.
“Ricardo Chaves has lots of money, but he hasn’t caught on among the voters,” Sanderoff said.
He also noted that while Pedrotty has support from only 3 percent of registered voters, he’s polling at 11 percent among 18- to 34-year olds.
The Journal Poll is based on a citywide sample of voters who said they planned to vote this year, and voted in the 2013 regular municipal election, the late-term abortion measure special election, or the 2015 regular municipal election.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (44 percent) and landlines (56 percent) of proven municipal election voters were used. Sanderoff said that’s significant because half of U.S. households don’t have landlines. If calls to cellphones had been excluded, Keller’s lead over Colón would have narrowed significantly.
Sanderoff said that’s probably because younger people tend to only have cellphones. And, he said, certain types of people are less likely to have landlines, and those people may be more likely to support a liberal Democrat.