Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Political newcomer Garrett VeneKlasen has emerged as the front-runner in a tight three-way race for the Democratic nomination for New Mexico land commissioner, according to a new Journal Poll.
The poll also showed state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City leading in the race for lieutenant governor, and Albuquerque attorney Brian Colón ahead in the Democratic race for state auditor.
VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, led the field for land commission, with support from 25 percent of likely voters in the Democratic primary, according to the scientific survey by Research & Polling Inc.
Two state lawmakers were close behind. Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of White Rock had support from 22 percent of likely voters, and Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup was at 20 percent.
But more than one-third of those surveyed were undecided or wouldn’t say how they’ll vote.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling, said VeneKlasen entered the race early and is airing television ads with environmental and progressive messages, allowing him to capture a slight lead over two experienced legislators. VeneKlasen is a longtime conservationist but has never held an elected state office.
“I view the others as trying to play catch-up to him,” Sanderoff said. But “the outcome of this race will be determined by how the bulk of the undecideds move.”
VeneKlasen, who’s from Santa Fe, showed particular strength in the Albuquerque area and among Anglo voters, according to the Journal Poll.
Muñoz led among Hispanic voters, and he was strong in the northwestern part of the state.
Incumbent Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn won the office four years ago as a Republican. But he is forgoing a re-election campaign, opting instead to run as a Libertarian for the U.S. Senate.
The winner of the Democratic nomination for land commissioner will face Republican Patrick Lyons, a member of the Public Regulation Commission whose term ends this year and a former land commissioner, and Libertarian Michael Lucero, a rancher, in the general election.
The Democratic race for state auditor is much clearer: Colón grabbed a healthy lead over his rival, state Rep. Bill McCamley, according to the telephone survey, conducted May 20-24.
Colón, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, received support from 48 percent of those surveyed, far outpacing McCamley at 22 percent, in the auditor’s race.
Colón was particularly strong among Hispanic voters and has built a “very significant lead,” even with plenty of voters undecided, Sanderoff said.
Some of Colón’s strength may come from his 2017 campaign for Albuquerque mayor and 2010 bid for lieutenant governor, Sanderoff said. He lost both races, but his television ads and other campaign activity made him a more familiar face to voters throughout the state. Albuquerque’s media market touches most of New Mexico, other than Las Cruces and the areas close to El Paso.
McCamley, in turn, is an “up-and-coming” Democrat who is running strong in Las Cruces, Sanderoff said.
The winner of the Democratic nomination will face Republican Wayne Johnson in the fall.
In the race for lieutenant governor, meanwhile, state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City had an advantage over his two Democratic rivals for the nomination, though 50 percent of those surveyed said they were undecided or wouldn’t say how they would vote.
Morales had support from 25 percent, followed by former state Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque, at 17 percent. Trailing the field was Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett, at 8 percent.
The race for lieutenant governor isn’t over, Sanderoff said, given the percentage of undecided voters.
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 again in this year’s primary.
The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 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 (54 percent) and landlines (46 percent) of proven Democratic primary election voters were used.