Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – With just over two months until Election Day, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham has the inside track against Republican Mark Ronchetti in a New Mexico governor’s race that has already drawn big spending from out-of-state groups, a new Journal Poll found.
A total of 47% of likely voters surveyed last week said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, who is seeking reelection to a second four-year term, while 40% said they planned to vote for Ronchetti, a former KRQE-TV meteorologist who easily won a five-way GOP primary in June.
The remaining voters surveyed included 5% who said they planned to vote for Libertarian Karen Bedonie and 8% who were still undecided.
“The governor is in a good position at this time, but there’s a long way to go in this election,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll.
Lujan Grisham’s edge over Ronchetti was due in large part to strong support among female voters and voters who identified as Hispanic. She also had an advantage over Ronchetti in all regions of the state except for New Mexico’s east side, which is traditionally more conservative.
But Sanderoff said the 7-point margin could also be due in part to a recent shift in the national mood – driven by a reduction in gas prices, approval of a federal climate change law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling – that has benefitted Democrats.
The political winds could still shift again in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, he added.
Lujan Grisham, a former three-term congresswoman, was elected governor in 2018, defeating Republican Steve Pearce by a decisive margin – she received 57% of the votes cast compared to 43% for Pearce – in a race that featured nearly 700,000 votes cast.
But this year’s race is shaping up to be more competitive than that contest – and tighter than recent races featuring incumbent governors seeking reelection.
The last time a sitting New Mexico governor was defeated was in 1994, when incumbent Democrat Bruce King was ousted by Republican Gary Johnson. Since then, Johnson, Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican Susana Martinez have all easily won reelection to second terms.
Both Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti have raised hefty sums for their campaigns. As of last month, Lujan Grisham, who was unopposed in the primary election, had more than $2.7 million in her reelection account, compared to about $1.4 million in Ronchetti’s account. But Ronchetti outraised the incumbent governor during a monthlong period that started just before the June primary.
Meanwhile, some out-of-state political groups have already aired TV attack ads with the race viewed as one of the most competitive of the 36 gubernatorial races nationwide, and both Ronchetti and Lujan Grisham have also launched ads of their own focused on crime, health care and the state’s economy.
The two candidates have also enlisted family members to help make their case to voters.
While male voters were nearly evenly split when asked which candidate they supported, the Journal Poll found women were much more likely to back Lujan Grisham.
Of the female voters surveyed, 50% said they would vote for the incumbent governor while 36% said they would vote for Ronchetti.
That’s not a total surprise since women are more likely than men to be registered as Democrats, Sanderoff said, but could be a key factor in a race featuring the state’s second Hispanic female governor.
As for voter ethnicity, Anglo voters surveyed were slightly more likely to vote for Ronchetti than they were for Lujan Grisham, but the incumbent governor enjoyed broad support among Hispanic voters.
While Republicans have sought to make inroads among Hispanic voters nationwide, 56% of Hispanic voters surveyed said they would vote for Lujan Grisham, compared to 32% who said they would support Ronchetti.
The Journal Poll also found registered Democrats and Republicans largely stuck to the party line when it came to their candidate of choice, while independent voters and those affiliated with other political parties were evenly divided.
However, 20% of independent voters surveyed said they were still undecided, a much larger percentage than among Republicans and Democrats.
That could represent an opening of sorts for Ronchetti, who has sought to portray himself as a political outsider with moderate views on abortion and other issues.
“He’s got to go after those independents,” said Sanderoff, who added Democratic attacks claiming Ronchetti holds extreme views could be working when it comes to influencing some voters’ decisions.
The Journal Poll found age was not a significant factor in voters’ views in the gubernatorial race, though voters under age 35 supported Lujan Grisham over Ronchetti at the highest clip.
But there was a larger chasm when it came to education level, as voters with a college degree or graduate degree preferred the Democratic governor over her Republican opponent by a significant margin.
Ronchetti, in turn, had stronger support among voters who had some college education or had not attended college.
That could be a reflection of a trend established under former President Donald Trump, who won over some low-income, primarily white voters who had previously supported Democrats, Sanderoff said.
While Ronchetti has embraced the outsider label and blasted political “elites” for many of the state’s problems, Lujan Grisham has spent much of her career in politics and state government.
The governor is a former Cabinet secretary under three different governors – King, Johnson and Richardson – who also served three terms representing an Albuquerque-based congressional seat before running for governor.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 518 voters who cast ballots in the 2018 and/or 2020 general election and who said they are likely to vote in the upcoming election.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 19 through Aug. 25. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 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 (79%) and landlines (21%) of proven general election voters were used.