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Voters divided in race for land commissioner

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Just 2 percentage points separate Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard and Republican Pat Lyons in a tight race to serve as New Mexico’s next state land commissioner, according to a Journal Poll.

Garcia Richard, who represents the Los Alamos area in the state House, had support from 39 percent of proven, likely voters in the three-way race, according to the survey, conducted last week by Research & Polling Inc.

Lyons, a former land commissioner and now a member of the Public Regulation Commission, was favored by 37 percent. Libertarian Michael Lucero, a rancher, was third at 9 percent.

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said he expects oil and gas interests and environmental groups to weigh in heavily with independent spending ahead of the Nov. 6 general election, as they have in past campaigns for land commissioner.

“This will probably become a nasty race,” Sanderoff said in an interview. “It’s close.”

The Journal Poll also showed Democrats leading the campaigns for state auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer.

The closest margin was in the auditor’s race – where former state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón had support from 45 percent of voters and Republican Wayne Johnson had 39 percent.

Johnson has held the office for 10½ months. A former Bernalillo County commissioner, he was appointed in December to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Tim Keller, who stepped down after winning election as Albuquerque mayor.

Sanderoff said it isn’t surprising that Democrats would lead so many down-ballot races this year. The campaigns for constitutionally established executive offices – besides governor – tend to attract less attention and campaign spending, he said, so voters have less information.

And Democrats hold a voter registration advantage over Republicans and Libertarians.

“In these low-profile races, voters oftentimes rely on their party affiliation, because they have little else to go by – other than perhaps the name recognition of the respective candidates,” Sanderoff said.

The political mood also appears to favor Democrats this cycle, he said, as the party in control of the White House tends to lose ground at midterm elections.

But strong Republican candidates who run effective campaigns have shown an ability to win in the past, Sanderoff said. Republicans have won three of the last four elections for land commissioner, for example, and had some success earlier this decade in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Nonetheless, Democrats have generally dominated the races for attorney general and treasurer.

The races

Here’s a look at how this year’s campaigns are shaping up:

• Incumbent Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, had support from 53 percent of voters, far outdistancing his competitors.

Republican Michael Hendricks was favored by 32 percent, and Libertarian Blair Dunn was at 7 percent.

Attorneys general are often seen in the public eye as crime fighters, Sanderoff said, and Balderas is coming off the successful prosecution of former state Sen. Phil Griego, a fellow Democrat, on corruption charges.

“Attorney general has often been a great steppingstone in New Mexico politics,” Sanderoff said, noting that past officeholders have gone on to win races for the U.S. Senate or governor.

Balderas was particularly strong among Hispanic voters – with support at 69 percent – but he was also ahead among Anglos. The sample sizes for other racial groups were too small to report their results with accuracy.

• Incumbent Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, led her race for re-election, with support from 46 percent of those surveyed, compared with 32 percent for Republican Gavin Clarkson and 6 percent for Libertarian Ginger Grider.

• Incumbent State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg had support from 44 percent of voters. Republican Arthur Castillo had 34 percent.

• Colón, a lawyer, had a lead of 6 percentage points over Johnson, a business owner. Both are familiar to voters, at least in part, because they ran for Albuquerque mayor last year and have plenty of political experience, either in office or as a party leader.

• Garcia Richard, a teacher from White Rock, and Lyons, a rancher from the state’s eastside, are competing in a tight race for land commissioner, with the Libertarian trailing far behind.

Garcia Richard is coming off a similarly close race in the Democratic primary, in which she won a three-way race, even as she was outspent by her rivals.

Lyons has a financial advantage so far, though the race is expected to attract plenty of outside spending by super PACS, or political committees that are not required to abide by the state’s campaign contribution limits.

Lyons had about $188,000 in cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed earlier this month. Garcia Richard had $33,000 in her account, and Lucero, the Libertarian, didn’t report any activity.

Incumbent Aubrey Dunn, who won as a Republican but later registered as a Libertarian, isn’t seeking re-election.

The land commissioner oversees 14,000 square miles of state trust land.

Poll methods

The Journal Poll is based on a scientific sample of registered voters who cast ballots in the 2014 and 2016 general elections and said they were very likely to vote in this year’s election.

The poll for the land commissioner, attorney general and state auditor races was conducted Sept. 7-13. The voter sample included 423 people, and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

The poll for secretary of state and state treasurer was conducted Sept. 14-19. The voter sample included 408 people, and the margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 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 and landlines of proven general election voters were used.

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