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Oh, So Close! Bush has Slight Lead in N.M.

By Andy Lenderman
Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    President Bush had a slight edge over Democrat John Kerry in a Journal poll of New Mexico voters, completed as the candidates prepared for the final two months of the campaign.
    Bush had 45 percent support compared to Kerry's 42 percent in the Aug. 27 to Sept. 1 survey of 908 registered voters statewide.
    "As was the case four years ago, the presidential race in New Mexico is extremely close and probably will remain so," said Brian Sanderoff, whose Research and Polling Inc. conducted the Journal poll.
    Eight percent of the voters were undecided, while 1 percent said "none of the above" and 1 percent wouldn't say.
    Three other candidates expected to be on New Mexico's Nov. 2 presidential ballot— David Cobb of the Green Party, Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party and independent Ralph Nader— each had 1 percent support in the poll.
    The survey of likely voters in what has been called a battleground state for the presidential election has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
    "Bush had a slight lead in June. Kerry had a slight lead in July and mid-August," Sanderoff said of national polling trends. "But, in the last two weeks, George Bush has gained some momentum and picked up some support both nationally and in New Mexico."
    Sanderoff said the Bush results in the Journal poll might have benefited from the timing of the survey: The president made campaign stops in three New Mexico cities— Las Cruces, Farmington and Albuquerque— the day before the Journal survey began. The survey also stretched into the third day of the Republican National Convention, but was completed before Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush gave their prime-time speeches on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Plenty of local stops
    At the same time, Kerry and Bush each have come four times this year to New Mexico, where Bush lost to Democrat Al Gore by just 366 votes four years ago. Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards also made a campaign stop in Mesilla the day before the Journal poll began. News coverage of each trip has been extensive. Political advertising, with sharp-edged debate accompanying it, has been at work nationally.
    "I believe that Bush's lead began a week prior to the convention," Sanderoff said. "We are," he said of New Mexico, "coincidentally a mirror of the public opinion of the nation."
    Sanderoff said he believes Kerry has been hurt by television ads sponsored by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, challenging Kerry's Vietnam war record and post-war criticism of the U.S. effort.
    Kerry has protested the ads and newspaper reports have discredited some of the group's claims. "Still, I think the Swift Boat ads have had an impact in New Mexico and I think they hurt John Kerry across the board," Sanderoff said.
    Sanderoff said the 8 percent undecided factor in the Journal poll is "unusually low for Labor Day," an indication of the intensity and tightness of the contest. "It would normally be twice that," he said.
    Hispanic voters were about twice as likely to be undecided on the presidential contest as Anglo voters— 12 percent to 5 percent, the Journal poll found. Women were at least slightly more likely than men to be undecided— 10 percent to 6 percent.
    "That's really good news for Kerry," Sanderoff said, because those groups tend to lean Democratic.
A less-than-solid base
    But, while Kerry had strong, majority support among Democratic and Hispanic voters— 64 percent and 52 percent respectively— Bush also had notable support among those groups, Sanderoff said.
    Twenty-four percent of the Democrats polled and 32 percent of the Hispanics said they would vote for the president.
    For a Republican to win in New Mexico, where Democrats remain the majority party, the Republican "must get at least a quarter of the Democrats and a quarter of the Hispanics," Sanderoff said.
    Citing the roughly one-third of Hispanic voters who said they would vote for Bush— a group that traditionally votes Democratic in New Mexico— Sanderoff said: "A segment of the traditional Democratic Party base has not been completely solidified by Kerry."
    Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Mexico 51 percent to 32 percent, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Fourteen percent of New Mexico's 1,005,064 registered voters are listed in the "no party" category, according to a Friday report by the state Bureau of Elections. One percent belong to the Green Party and 2 percent belong to other parties.
    Other findings of the Journal poll included:
  • Kerry had the support of 6 percent of Republicans surveyed and 43 percent of independents, or "no party" registrants.
  • Bush was backed by 31 percent of the independent voters.
  • Among 470 Democrats surveyed, just two said they would vote for Nader. Four percent of the independents polled said they would vote for Nader. One Republican voter planned to vote for Nader.
    Favorable opinions
        In voter responses to another Journal poll question, Bush had a higher favorability rating than Kerry during the Aug. 27-Sept. 1 period.
        Forty-eight percent of 402 voters surveyed statewide on this question had a favorable impression of Bush, compared to 42 percent with a favorable impression of Kerry.
        Meanwhile, 42 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the president, compared to 47 percent for Kerry.
        Vice President Dick Cheney got a 42 percent favorable rating from voters, compared to 46 percent for Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
        Forty-four percent of the voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican vice president, while 33 percent said they had unfavorable opinion of Edwards.
        Coming Monday: The Journal poll on New Mexico's three contests for the U.S. House of Representatives.
        Research and Polling Inc. of Albuquerque just completed a survey of New Mexico voters on a wide range of issues. Over the next two weeks, the Journal will report on the results of the poll.
        Today's stories focus on the presidential race. Monday's story will focus on New Mexico's three congressional races.
        Coming stories will report what New Mexico voters think about the war in Iraq, the economy, health care, cockfighting and same-sex marriage. Other topics will include Paseo del Norte in Albuquerque and the Endangered Species Act.
        Want to know how good a job Gov. Bill Richardson is doing? What about Mayor Martin Chávez? Check the Journal daily for stories on what New Mexicans are thinking.
        John Robertson
        State editor