SANTA FE – Michelle Lujan Grisham held a commanding edge over her two Democratic rivals in the primary contest to determine the party’s 2018 nominee for New Mexico governor, a new Journal Poll found.
Fifty-seven percent of proven Democratic voters surveyed last week said they would vote – or had already voted – for Lujan Grisham, a former state Cabinet secretary who is giving up her Albuquerque-area congressional seat to run for governor.
Former Albuquerque media executive Jeff Apodaca trailed Lujan Grisham, with the support of 15 percent of voters surveyed, while 9 percent said they would vote for state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces. The remaining 19 percent of voters were undecided or would not say for whom they planned to vote.
“I think Michelle Lujan Grisham got a really early start in the gubernatorial campaign, and it’s paying off,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the survey.
“She has a lot more name recognition than her two opponents,” he added. “They’ve really had an uphill battle to try to defeat her.”
Lujan Grisham was the first candidate to enter the race, nearly a year-and-a-half ago, and has used her broad range of connections to outraise her Democratic opponents and land the endorsements of labor unions, tribal groups and more than two dozen state lawmakers.
She has touted her state government experience on the campaign trail, saying it would allow her to hit the ground running as governor and make changes to the state’s public education system and minimum wage law.
However, Cervantes and Apodaca in recent weeks have stepped up their criticisms – in campaign TV ads and debates – of Lujan Grisham’s job performance during her 16-year tenure as a Cabinet secretary and profits earned from a health care consulting company she co-founded in 2008.
Those attacks have been described as inaccurate and misguided by Lujan Grisham, who has aired TV ads of her own, and do not appear to have affected her credibility in the minds of most Democratic voters, Sanderoff said.
“The anti-establishment mood has not been a drawback for her in this race,” he said.
The winner of the Democratic primary on June 5 will face Republican Steve Pearce, who is also giving up his congressional seat to run for governor, in the November general election. Two-term GOP Gov. Susana Martinez is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office and will step down at the end of the year.
Lujan Grisham outpaced her two opponents in all parts of the state in the Journal Poll, but had especially strong support in the Albuquerque area.
Sixty-five percent of proven Democratic voters surveyed in the Albuquerque area said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, who was also a Bernalillo County commissioner before being elected to Congress, compared with 10 percent for Apodaca and 9 percent for Cervantes.
Not surprisingly, support for Cervantes was strongest in Las Cruces and southwestern New Mexico, where 19 percent of voters surveyed said they would support the veteran lawmaker, who hails from a prominent farming family.
As for Apodaca, whose father, Jerry Apodaca, served as New Mexico’s governor in the 1970s, there was a gender gap of sorts among his supporters.
Male voters surveyed were nearly twice as likely to say they would vote for Apodaca than female voters were, as 20 percent of men said they would vote for Apodaca compared with 11 percent of women surveyed.
Apodaca also had more support among Hispanic voters than among Anglo voters, though Lujan Grisham still held a sizable edge among both groups.
Under New Mexico’s closed primary system, only voters affiliated with major political parties – Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians in this year’s election cycle – can vote in the primary election for candidates of their party.
That’s generally led to lower turnout than in general elections, and only about one in five eligible voters – or roughly 202,700 voters – cast ballots in the state’s 2014 primary election. But voter turnout was higher in 2010, when the state last had an open race for governor.
In state Democratic primary elections, the majority of the voters who cast ballots are over 50 years old and female, Sanderoff said. The Journal Poll sample was stratified to reflect those trends.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 444 registered Democratic voters who cast ballots in the 2014 and/or 2016 primary elections and said they were very likely to vote in this year’s primary election.
The poll was conducted May 20-24. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (54 percent) and landlines (46 percent) of proven Democratic primary election voters were used.