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Weh, Martinez Lead Primary Election Field for Governor

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Allen Weh and Susana Martinez have surged far ahead of three other candidates in the race for the Republican nomination for governor with the June 1 primary election just around the corner, a Journal Poll found.
        Weh, a retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel and former state party chairman, and Martinez, a state district attorney from Las Cruces, were in a virtual tie as the survey of likely Republican voters wrapped up late last week.
        Trailing the leaders in the May 11-13 Journal Poll were Republican candidates Pete Domenici Jr., Doug Turner and Janice Arnold-Jones.
        "It appears that two of the five candidates are breaking away from the others and are emerging as front-runners in the final three weeks before the election," said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque.
        Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is the only ballot candidate for the Democratic governor nomination in the June 1 election. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson is ineligible to run again after two terms.
        Weh and Martinez were supported by 31percent and 30 percent of the Republican voters surveyed.
        Domenici, an Albuquerque lawyer and the son of former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had the support of 10 percent. Albuquerque public relations company owner Doug Turner had 6 percent. Arnold-Jones, a fourth-term state representative, had 3 percent.
        Twenty percent of the Republican voters polled said they were undecided or wouldn't identify the candidate they supported.
        Sanderoff said that, although their chances are dwindling, the three trailing candidates can still siphon votes away from the leaders, as well as fight for voters who haven't made up their minds.
        "We still have one in five undecided voters, which is a sizable number," Sanderoff said.
        The poll surveyed 503 registered Republicans who have voted in previous primary elections and indicated they planned to vote, or already had, for the June 1 election. The margin of error for the overall sample of voters is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Respondents were interviewed by telephone.
        Gender and ethnicity
        Gender did not appear to play a role in voter decisions in the GOP contest.
        Weh and Martinez each had 31 percent support from men. Women were also just about evenly split on the top two candidates, with Weh getting 30 percent support and Martinez 29 percent.
        Martinez had a lead among Republican voters who identified themselves as Hispanic, with 41 percent of Hispanics surveyed supporting her to Weh's 28 percent.
        Thirty-one percent of Anglo Republican voters supported Weh, and 28 percent supported Martinez.
        Contest dynamics
        Weh and Martinez's lead could change the dynamics of a race in which attacks between the Republican candidates have almost been absent, Sanderoff said.
        Whether the Republicans step up their attacks against one another, or against Denish, who has been the chief target so far, Sanderoff said voters should expect to see new campaign strategies in the final weeks before the election.
        "We do know that all the focus will be on those two," Sanderoff said, referring to Martinez and Weh.
        Sanderoff said Weh was the first candidate in the race and has been traveling extensively throughout the state, a strategy that appears to have worked for him. Weh's tough-talking style is also an asset for parts of the party's conservative base, he said.
        "He has a persona to him that will be important to a portion of Republican voters," Sanderoff said.
        Martinez gained support after her "impressive" win — 21 points over the nearest candidate — at the Republican nominating convention in March, he said. That win has translated into more fundraising and more opportunities to get her law-and-order message heard, he said.
        "Ever since the convention, a lot of people started paying attention to her as a credible, viable candidate," Sanderoff said.
        Domenici, whose family name is well-known in New Mexico because of his father's long political career in Albuquerque and the U.S. Senate, made a splash during his late entry into the race, but has faltered since, Sanderoff said.
        "In my opinion, it seems like Domenici peaked the day he announced," Sanderoff said.
        Turner has been an unknown name to many Republican voters and has kept up with the race's front-runners in advertising, Sanderoff said. It just hasn't translated into voter support, he said.
        "For whatever reason, he hasn't caught on in the same way as Weh or Martinez," Sanderoff said.
        Turner, however, has experience with an initially unknown candidate in a governor's race. Turner was a top aide in Republican Gary Johnson's successful governor campaigns in 1994 and 1998.
        Arnold-Jones is the only candidate in the race with legislative experience but has been hampered by a lack of campaign money. The cash shortfall has stifled her ability to get her name out in the mainstream voting community, Sanderoff said.
        "Northeast Heights representatives from Albuquerque don't generally become household names in New Mexico," Sanderoff said.
        ïÆ'Ëœ Coming Monday: Republican voters list the biggest issues facing New Mexico in the second and final Journal Poll on the June 1 primary election.

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