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Journal Poll: Kerry Gains Edge Over Bush

By Andy Lenderman
Journal Politics Writer
    After trailing by three points a month ago, Democrat John Kerry has gained a slight edge over President Bush in New Mexico, according to a new Journal poll conducted after the first presidential debate.
    Kerry was the choice of 46 percent of registered likely voters surveyed Oct. 1-4 statewide, compared to 43 percent for Bush. Eight percent were undecided or would not say for whom they would vote in the Nov. 2 election.
    The previous Journal poll, conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, showed Bush with a 45 to 42 percent edge over Kerry, with eight percent of voters undecided.
    The first presidential debate was held Sept. 30, and a majority of New Mexico voters— 57 percent— said they thought Kerry won, according to the latest Journal poll. Seventeen percent gave the nod to Bush.
    "The debate played a major role in Kerry's ascension not only in New Mexico but nationwide," said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the Journal poll.
    Among Bush's supporters, 7 percent said the debates helped them decide. Among Kerry supporters, 19 percent said the debates swayed their support to Kerry.
    But Sanderoff added, "The biggest thing that explains the turnaround in New Mexico is the fact that more Democrats are coming home to their party."
    He also said Kerry became better known in the debate and has since taken a more aggressive stance on the war in Iraq, criticizing the president's moves.
Trailing momentum
    Still, the contest is not over and remains close in New Mexico.
    "Our poll of a month ago detected the beginning of Bush's momentum, and now this poll happened to be done at a time where Kerry is enjoying some post-debate momentum," Sanderoff said. "It could just as well rubberband in the next few days. We haven't seen the end of the momentum swings in this race."
    Bush and Kerry debate again Friday night.
    The new poll surveyed a total of 872 registered voters, who said they are likely to vote in the Nov. 2 election. They were interviewed by telephone. The total sample results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
    Voters were asked whom they would vote for "if the election were held today."
    Two percent of the New Mexico voters chose independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and 1 percent listed Libertarian Michael Badnarik. Support for Green Party candidate David Cobb did not register in the poll.
    Kerry gained support among members of his own party since the last Journal poll, moving up in Democratic backing from 64 to 73 percent.
    Kerry also improved his position among Hispanic voters, from 52 to 58 percent.
    Women voters remained divided between the two candidates: 45 percent for Kerry to 44 percent for Bush in the new poll, compared to 44 to 43 percent in the previous survey.
    Kerry led the president in the Albuquerque metropolitan area (49-41 percent), the north-central part of the state (62-26 percent) and was about even with the president in the southwest (44-42 percent).
    Bush led Kerry in the northwest (45-36 percent) and very strongly on the eastside (64-30 percent).
    "The other thing that explains Kerry's ascension is he's performing better in Albuquerque now," Sanderoff said, noting a Kerry move upward from 44 to 49 percent between the two polls. The Albuquerque area contains nearly a third of the state's voters.
Two out of three
    Kerry led Bush in two of the state's three congressional districts in the new poll: 50 to 40 percent in the 1st District and 48 to 39 percent in the 3rd District.
    Bush led Kerry 50 to 40 percent in the 2nd District.
    While Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Mexico by about 1.6 to 1, Bush continues to be strongly supported by Republicans— more strongly than Kerry was backed by Democrats.
    Eighty-seven percent of the Republicans polled said they would vote for the president, compared to 73 percent of the Democrats saying they would vote for Kerry.
    Among voters with no party affiliation and voters who are members of other parties, 45 percent said they would vote for Kerry and 36 percent said they would vote for Bush.
    Republicans were the least likely voters to be undecided (3 percent), and the independent and other party members were the most likely (10 percent). Eight percent of Democrats said they were undecided.
    Bush's support has remained strong (70 percent) among voters calling themselves conservatives while Kerry was backed strongly by liberals (81 percent).
    The poll also tested how strongly voters supported their candidates.
    Thirty-seven percent said they strongly supported the president and 6 percent said they "somewhat" supported the president.
    Thirty-six percent said they strongly supported Kerry and 10 percent said they "somewhat" supported him.
    Seven percent of the voters were still undecided, Sanderoff noted. "Twenty-three percent of the electorate is soft still," he said, combining the undecided with the "somewhat" support figures. "They're either undecided or soft."
    Seventy-two percent of the voters polled said they watched the first debate on Sept. 30.
    While 57 percent thought Kerry won and 17 percent said Bush won, 19 percent said it was a tossup or were undecided.
    Thirteen percent said the debates helped them decide who to vote for. At the same time, 84 percent of the voters who watched said they had already decided.