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GOP race a three-way contest in New Mexico

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

WASHINGTON – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and New York billionaire Donald Trump are nearly tied for the top spot in the presidential primary race among New Mexico Republicans, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida a close third, according to a Journal poll.

The poll conducted last week by Research & Polling Inc. found that Cruz had the support of 25 percent of New Mexico Republicans who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential primary election, while 24 percent of the poll respondents favored Trump.

Rubio was the preferred candidate of 19 percent of New Mexico Republicans.

Seventeen percent of those responding said they were still undecided about the field of GOP candidates.

The rest of the pack trailed far behind the top three.

Ben Carson, a Detroit surgeon, had the support of 6 percent of poll respondents, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the presidential race Saturday night, had 5 percent support. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the preferred candidate of just 4 percent of New Mexico Republicans participating in the poll.

The poll surveyed 403 New Mexico Republicans who are likely to vote. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

“Three of the six candidates running in the Republican primary – Cruz, Trump and Rubio – are within striking distance among New Mexico Republicans, and three are pretty much falling by the wayside,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc, which conducted the survey from Feb. 16-18. “This is consistent with national polls and many state-by-state polls.”

The Journal will survey New Mexico Democrats about the presidential race this week and publish the results Feb. 28.

Debbie Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said the New Mexico poll’s tight margin at the top is an accurate reflection of a hard-fought contest nationally.

“These numbers aren’t surprising, the Republicans have such a strong set of candidates this year that we’ve always expected the race would be very tight,” Maestas said. “Any one of the three leading candidates is far better than the two the Democrats have to choose between.”

While Cruz and Sanders topped the New Mexico survey, Rubio’s showing puts him in contention among the state’s Republicans.

“Marco Rubio is definitely within striking distance,” Sanderoff said.

New Mexico’s primary election is June 7, a date that typically arrives too late to make a difference in the presidential nominating contests.

Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy at the University of New Mexico. said “the numbers show a lot of uncertainty” in the Republican race.

“Not only are there many popular candidates – Cruz, Trump and Rubio – but 17 percent are undecided,” Atkeson said.

Trump fared poorly among young voters, a group in which Rubio had strong support. Rubio and Cruz did well among Hispanic GOP voters

Cruz’s largest margin of support came from the state’s conservative east side, with 34 percent of GOP respondents from that region stating their preference for the Texas senator compared to 25 percent of eastern New Mexico voters who preferred Trump. Just 13 percent of poll respondents from eastern New Mexico favored Rubio.

Sanderoff said the regional affinity for Cruz among Republicans is not surprising. Many New Mexicans living in the eastern part of the state have family and friends in Texas and get at least some of their news from Texas media outlets, which boosts their familiarity with Cruz, he said.

“Eastern New Mexico is a very conservative area that shares a 300-mile border with Texas,” Sanders said. “That Texas connection is important.”

Trump did better among men than women in the Journal poll. Twenty-eight percent of men responding to the poll favored him compared to 22 percent of women.

“There is a bit of a gender gap,” Sanderoff said.

Twenty-seven percent of male Republicans in New Mexico said they favored Cruz while 22 percent of female poll respondents said he was their preferred candidate.

Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, did best of all the candidates in the poll among New Mexico Hispanic Republicans, with 30 percent support.

“Rubio is doing twice as well among New Mexico Hispanic Republicans than Anglos,” Sanderoff said.

Cruz did slightly better among Hispanic New Mexico Republicans than Trump, with 26 percent favoring Cruz compared to 23 percent who preferred Trump. Bush, who speaks Spanish and whose wife is Latina, pulled just 5 percent of support of New Mexico Hispanic Republicans responding to the poll.

Sanderoff noted that the survey of New Mexico voters began just three days after Trump came under heavy attack from Bush and other candidates at a debate in South Carolina and ended on the same day that Pope Francis indirectly criticized the New York businessman’s call for the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep immigrants out.

“Trump was taking some pretty heavy hits last week and it may have slowed his momentum,” Sanderoff said.

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