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          Front Page

51% Give Gov. Thumbs Up

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Just over half of New Mexico voters still approve of Gov. Bill Richardson's job performance, but his rating has dropped 10 points since last year and 13 points since his two-term high, according to a Journal Poll.
        Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's job performance rating this month was at 52 percent, almost identical to Richardson's 51 percent. However, only 20 percent of voters surveyed disapproved of Denish's job performance, compared with 42 percent who disapproved of the governor's.
        Also, more than a quarter of the voters — 28 percent — said they didn't know about the lieutenant governor's performance, or wouldn't say anything, compared with only 7 percent who didn't comment on Richardson.
        Denish is the only announced Democratic candidate to succeed Richardson when his term ends next year.
        Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the poll, said he thinks Richardson's rating "suffered significantly" because of a long-running federal pay-to-play investigation involving his administration.
        The investigation was concluded, and no indictments were handed up, before the latest Journal Poll was conducted. The federal prosecutor, however, said in a letter to defense attorneys that the absence of indictments should not be considered exoneration and that "pressure from the governor's office resulted in corruption of the procurement process."
        Richardson has said neither he nor his administration did anything wrong.
        More recently, New Mexico, suffering from recession along with the rest of the nation, has been confronted with a $433 million budget deficit. Richardson has been criticized even by some longtime supporters, such as teacher unions, for considering spending cuts to balance the books.
        Richardson spent much of 2007 out of the state while campaigning for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
        "Governor Richardson feels good about having the support of a majority of New Mexicans despite this tough economic and political climate that has generated mistrust among many Americans," Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said this week. "The poll numbers are encouraging, given the unrelenting and unfair media coverage and political attacks against the governor."
        "The good news is that he's been governor for seven years and still has an approval rating above 50 percent," Sanderoff said. "That's tough to do."
        Richardson's job performance rating was down in the Sept. 8-10 Journal Poll from 61 percent a year ago and from 64 percent in 2003 — his two-term high point — shortly after he took office in his first term. He was elected to a second, four-year term in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote.
        Denish ran as Richardson's running mate in 2003 and 2006, but this year she has made comments that appeared to be efforts to distinguish her from the rest of the Richardson administration.
        Although Denish was also just over 50 percent in the latest poll, Sanderoff noted that many voters apparently don't know enough about her to form an opinion — a common problem for lieutenant governors, who are usually left out of the spotlight.
        The poll surveyed 402 registered New Mexico voters Sept. 8-10. The margin of error for the full, scientific sample is plus or minus five percentage points.
        Other poll findings included:
        • Hispanic voters were more likely than Anglo voters to approve of Richardson's job performance — 63 percent to 43 percent.
        • Voters ages 18 to 34 were more likely to approve of Richardson's performance than older voters.
        • Party lines were conspicuous in the Richardson approval rating: Two-thirds of Democratic voters approved of his performance, compared with 24 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents.
        • The governor has a majority of approval in much of the state, but in the eastern, southern and southwestern portions of New Mexico his ratings dropped to under half.
        • Regionally, Richardson's approval rating was above 50 percent in the Albuquerque area, the northwestern and the north-central parts of the state. The numbers dropped to 42 percent in the eastern part of the state and 45 percent in the south-southwestern area.
        Denish ratings
        "Lieutenant governors don't take those battle line stances on polarizing issues that cubbyhole them as too liberal or conservative," Sanderoff said.
        Denish "has at least some popularity" with conservatives, although many of them were also without an opinion, Sanderoff said.
        Other findings on Denish's job performance included:
        • Hispanics were more likely than Anglos to approve of Denish's performance, by a ratio of about 3-to-1.
        • Two-thirds of people over age 65 approved of Denish, and approval declined by age group to 40 percent among voters ages 18 to 34.
        • More than two-thirds of Democrats approved of Denish and only ten percent disapproved. Only one-third of Republicans approved, and 37 percent disapproved.
        "I'm a lifelong New Mexican and a former small-business owner, so I think folks see me as someone uniquely prepared to lead us through difficult times and seize the economy of the future," said Denish, who is the only announced candidate so far for the Democratic governor nomination in 2010.

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