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Crossovers From Democrats Give Martinez Boost

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Republican Susana Martinez picked off the support of one in five Democrats and had strong backing from members of her own party to take an early lead over Diane Denish in New Mexico's race for governor, a Journal Poll found.
        Sixteen percent of voters were still undecided, but Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said erosion of the Democratic vote is a problem for Denish, who has served as lieutenant governor for the past eight years.
        Sanderoff also noted that Martinez had strong support in several key categories of voters.
        Martinez drew more votes than her Democratic opponent among men, Anglos and voters over 50 years old — all categories that tend to lean conservative, Sanderoff said.
        That, along with some support from Democrats, gave Martinez a good outlook in the race heading up to the general election on Nov. 2.
        "Politically, it's a very good place to be," Sanderoff said.
        Independent voters — just one of the categories in which Martinez appeared to have the edge over Denish — also could be a decisive battleground, with 29 percent of them undecided, he said.
        "For Diane Denish to win this thing, she needs to stop the slippage of crossover Democrats," Sanderoff said. "In fact, she needs to reverse it."
        In the Journal Poll overall, Martinez led Denish 45 percent to 39 percent with 16 percent undecided. The poll was conducted Aug. 23-27 by Research and Polling Inc. of Albuquerque. The margin of error for statewide results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
        Martinez's Democratic support included about one in four Hispanic Democrats, while Denish had 55 percent of all Hispanic Democrat support. One in five Hispanic Democrats were still undecided.
        Denish led among Hispanics overall, with 44 percent support. But Sanderoff said Martinez's Hispanic background has likely helped her attract more Hispanic voters, a group that traditionally leans Democratic.
        Martinez also appeared to have an edge over Denish in all but one region of the state, the north-central counties long known as a Democratic stronghold with many Hispanic voters. However, Denish's 58 percent advantage in the north-central region was the strongest level of support for either candidate in any part of the state. Also, the survey margin of error grows for the individual regions.
        Martinez is a state district attorney based in Las Cruces, in the south-central area of the state, and Denish comes from Hobbs, in the southeast corner.
        Since only 8 percent of Republican voters said they would vote for Denish, Martinez can focus on attracting independents and more Democrats with her campaign strategy, Sanderoff said.
        "Now that she has locked up the Republicans, will we see a kinder, gentler Susana Martinez?" Sanderoff said.
        Martinez has already softened her language and taken less conservative tacks on issues like school vouchers and, to a lesser extent, immigration reform. Sanderoff said voters can expect a more middle-of-the-road Martinez on policy while continuing to aggressively criticize Denish's association with the Gov. Bill Richardson administration.
        Denish has several factors working against her, Sanderoff said.
        "I think this race is still in the context of a state and national mood that has turned conservative," he said. "Diane Denish is fighting the national mood."
        Denish also is suffering from what Sanderoff said has been a successful Martinez strategy to tie her to Richardson, with whom Denish has served since 2003, and clouds cast over his administration.
        Richardson's dismal job approval numbers in the new Journal Poll — 33 percent — appeared to have a correlation with Denish's support.
        Among those who disapproved of Richardson's performance, 62 percent said they would vote for Martinez compared to 22 percent who said they would vote for Denish.
        Among Democrats who disapproved of Richardson, 47 percent said they would vote for Denish and 35 percent said they would vote for Martinez. Of Democrats who approved of Richardson, 81 percent said they would vote for Denish.
        Denish led Martinez 51 percent to 38 percent among voters aged 18-34 years old while Martinez was even with Denish, or had the advantage among all other age groups.
        Sanderoff said the Journal Poll showed the gubernatorial race is still up in the air.
        "There's nothing in the poll that says this is all over," Sanderoff said.
        Independents, who make up about 15 percent of the state's electorate, favored Martinez with 38 percent to Denish's 32 percent, but 29 percent were still undecided.
        More men favored Martinez, but women surveyed in the poll were split between the candidates. Martinez had the support of 42 percent of women while Denish had the support of 41 percent.

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