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SANTA FE – The race to serve as New Mexico’s next land commissioner remains incredibly close as the campaign heads into its final days – with just 3 percentage points separating the top two candidates, according to a Journal Poll.
Republican Pat Lyons led the three-way race with support from 45 percent of likely voters, according to the scientific telephone survey, conducted over the last week by Research & Polling Inc.
Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, however, is earning strong support in her own right, polling at 42 percent. Libertarian Michael Lucero was third at 6 percent.
In other races, the Journal Poll showed Democrats with healthy leads in the campaigns for state auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.
The close race for the State Land Office comes as oil and gas companies, conservationists and others pour money into the campaign – which will determine who oversees 14,000 square miles of state trust land throughout New Mexico.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the combination of Lyons’ long record in public office and the outside spending to support his candidacy has helped him this year, even as the national mood favors Democrats. The party in control of the White House – Republicans this year – tends to lose ground at midterm elections.
Lyons is a former land commissioner and ex-legislator who now serves on the Public Regulation Commission. Garcia Richard, an educator from White Rock, is a member of the state House.
“The land commission race is obviously very close,” Sanderoff said in an interview. “There’s some momentum with Democratic candidates this election cycle. Despite that, we see Republican Pat Lyons in a very competitive race, if not even up a few points.”
Lyons has a lead overall in the poll, Sanderoff said, but Garcia Richard is ahead among people who told pollsters that they have already cast their ballots – either at early voting locations or by absentee.
“It’s money in the bank,” Sanderoff said of those votes, and they could prove decisive if Lyons’ supporters don’t turn out on Election Day.
Nonetheless, he said, Lyons is showing political strength on the state’s conservative east side, where he’s a rancher, and in the northwest. He’s running roughly even with Garcia Richard in the Albuquerque area, which tends to favor Democrats.
Incumbent Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is stepping down rather than seek re-election. He won election in 2014 as a Republican but later switched his affiliation to Libertarian.
The race has attracted national attention and substantial spending by political action committees.
Chevron Corp., one of the world’s largest oil companies, donated $2 million to a political committee that has launched ads attacking Garcia Richard.
And Lyons has faced negative ads launched by the Verde Voters Fund, a PAC affiliated with Conservation Voters New Mexico.
Both candidates have proven to be adept fundraisers – with Lyons raising about $138,000 over the past month and Garcia Richard taking in about $129,000.
Lucero, a rancher, hasn’t reported any recent financial activity.
In other statewide races, the Journal Poll showed Democrats in good position to claim several New Mexico’s executive offices.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, the Democratic incumbent, had support from 58 percent of likely voters. Republican Michael Hendricks was favored by 32 percent, and Libertarian Blair Dunn was at 5 percent.
Sanderoff noted that Balderas won attention throughout New Mexico for the successful corruption prosecution of an ex-state senator, among other high-profile cases involving government officials.
Balderas is also showing some strength among Republicans, winning support from 21 percent of Republicans – a high figure for a Democrat, Sanderoff said.
Secretary of state
Incumbent Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, led a three-way race for the office that oversees elections, with support from 51 percent of likely voters.
Republican Gavin Clarkson had 32 percent, and Libertarian Ginger Grider drew support from 5 percent of likely voters.
Incumbent State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg had support from 52 percent of voters, followed by Republican Arthur Castillo at 39 percent.
Former state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón was ahead in the race for state auditor, with support from 53 percent of likely voters.
Republican Wayne Johnson, who was appointed to the office last year, had support from 40 percent.
The auditor’s race is a rematch of sorts, after both candidates ran for Albuquerque mayor last year, losing out to Democrat Tim Keller.
Keller was state auditor at the time, but stepped down to become mayor in December.
Colón is a lawyer, Johnson a business owner.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 438 likely general election voters, including newly registered voters who said they were very likely to vote in this year’s election.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 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 (72 percent) and landlines (28 percent) of likely general election voters were used.
Q-and-A’s online: To find out the candidates’ positions on key issues, go to ABQJournal.com/election2018. The site also includes links to Journal stories on statewide, legislative and county-level races, district maps, key election dates and other voter resources. It will be updated regularly with new candidate profile stories and other information.