Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham has expanded her lead over Republican Steve Pearce in a high-profile New Mexico governor’s race that has become increasingly pugnacious in recent weeks, a new Journal Poll found.
Fifty-three percent of likely general election voters surveyed last week said they would vote – or had already voted – for Lujan Grisham, while 43 percent said they would support Pearce. The remaining voters surveyed would not say which candidate they planned to vote for or were undecided.
A previous Journal Poll conducted in mid-September found that 50 percent of proven, likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, while 43 percent said they would vote for Pearce.
The new poll found Lujan Grisham’s lead over Pearce has specifically increased in recent weeks among female voters and independents, or those who decline to affiliate with a political party.
Among women surveyed in the new poll, Lujan Grisham had a significant advantage over Pearce – 59 percent of female voters surveyed said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, while 37 percent said they favored Pearce. Male voters were slightly more likely to vote for Pearce than for Lujan Grisham.
“It’s not unusual to see a gender gap, but it’s more amplified in this race than is typical,” said Sanderoff, who suggested that Lujan Grisham’s call for more state spending on public schools and health care might be resonating with female voters.
Lujan Grisham, who lives in Albuquerque and was a state Cabinet secretary under three different governors, won a bruising three-way primary election in June, with roughly two-thirds of the votes cast in the race.
She has faced attacks from Pearce, a former state lawmaker from Hobbs with business interests in the oil industry, over her past ties to a consulting firm that landed contracts to run the state’s high-risk insurance pool, but has responded by calling Pearce dishonest and linking him to President Donald Trump.
Lujan Grisham has also outraised Pearce in the governor’s race, and the candidates’ combined campaign spending of more than $13.6 million – along with large amounts of money spent by out-of-state groups – could make this year’s race for governor one of the most expensive in state history.
This year’s contest was wide open because Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office. She will step down at the end of the year.
Both Lujan Grisham and Pearce are members of the U.S. House who are forgoing re-election bids to run for governor. It’s the first time two sitting members of Congress have faced off for New Mexico governor in a general election.
The Journal Poll found that Lujan Grisham had a decisive lead over Pearce in the state’s north-central region, which includes Santa Fe, while Pearce held a similar advantage in the state’s more conservative east side.
But Lujan Grisham also had a comfortable edge among voters in New Mexico’s most populous city, since 55 percent of voters surveyed in the Albuquerque Metro area said they would vote for her, while 40 percent expressed support for Pearce.
As in the previous poll, Lujan Grisham also held a decisive advantage over Pearce among Hispanic voters, while Pearce had a narrow edge among Anglo voters. The sample sizes for other racial groups weren’t large enough to provide statistically meaningful numbers.
In the final run-up to Election Day, Lujan Grisham has also benefitted from a national and state political climate that favors Democratic candidates, Sanderoff said, as the prevailing voter mood has complicated Pearce’s efforts to win over undecided voters.
While statewide early and absentee vote numbers have shown Democrats and Republicans voting at a similar rate, Democrats entered this year’s general election cycle with a substantial voting registration advantage over Republicans.
Eighty-seven percent of Democrats surveyed said they would vote – or had already voted – for their party’s nominee, while 89 percent of Republicans who took part in the poll said they would cast their ballot for Pearce.
“Most of the Democrats and Republicans are sticking with their party’s candidate,” Sanderoff told the Journal. “Pearce has not been able to convince a lot of Democrats to switch sides.”
Lujan Grisham also had a more than two-to-one edge among voters who self-identified as moderates, a label that can cut across party affiliation, as 65 percent of moderate voters surveyed said they would back Lujan Grisham and 31 percent said they would support Pearce.
Stakes are high
The stakes in this year’s race are high, since whoever is elected governor on Tuesday will have final say over how an estimated $1.2 billion of “new” money – or revenue in excess of current spending – is spent for the budget year, starting in July 2019. The unprecedented revenue infusion, which could be even larger, is due primarily to skyrocketing oil production levels in southeastern New Mexico.
However, the new governor will also face challenges. The state’s two large public retirement systems are both facing sustainability questions, and New Mexico could be on the hook for damages in a long-running water dispute with Texas.
In addition, the state has long struggled with chronically high poverty rates, and whoever is elected will inherit a looming deadline to approve a plan that ensures that Native American, Hispanic and other at-risk students receive an adequate education. In a landmark case, a retired District Court judge ruled in July that the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligations to those students.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 993 likely general election voters, including new 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 3.1 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 (71 percent) and landlines (29 percent) of proven general election voters were used.