By James Monteleone / Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has doubled her lead over Democratic challenger Gary King since mid-August, in part by picking up support from Democrats, Hispanics and independents who previously backed King, a new Journal Poll shows.
The September poll, conducted Tuesday through Thursday last week, found that Martinez had increased her advantage to 54 percent of likely New Mexico voters.
King’s support slid to 36 percent, widening Martinez’s lead to 18 percentage points.
The number of undecided voters stayed about the same: 10 percent in the latest poll, compared with 9 percent in the earlier one.
The Aug. 12-14 Journal Poll showed Martinez leading King, currently the state’s attorney general, 50 percent to 41 percent.
Martinez’s gains follow a monthlong barrage of Martinez television ads, several of them criticizing King for votes he cast more than 25 years ago when he was a member of the state House of Representatives.
“Simple math tells you that the governor is picking up some of Gary King’s support from the prior poll in the past month, actually cutting into King’s base,” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
“Gary King has been sliding,” Sanderoff said.
King’s campaign, which trails Martinez 24-to-1 in campaign cash, according to recent reports, has been quiet on the airwaves over the month.
But King sparked controversy last week – just after the Journal Poll went into the field – for saying in filmed remarks that Martinez does not have a “Latino heart.”
“It may have contributed to some of his (King’s) slippage among Hispanics,” Sanderoff said. King, as an Anglo candidate running against the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, “was not the right messenger.”
The lack of money for TV ads was also a likely factor in King’s decline over the past four weeks, Sanderoff said.
“When campaigns become one-sided affairs due to insufficient funding, the challenger can actually run the risk of losing support, and this is what has happened here,” Sanderoff said.
Increased support for the governor from voters identifying themselves as Hispanic appeared to contribute to Martinez’s increased advantage. Hispanic voters in New Mexico have traditionally leaned more toward Democratic candidates.
Forty-four percent of Hispanic voters in the latest poll said they backed Martinez, compared with the 45 percent of Hispanic voters who said they favored King. Eleven percent said they were undecided.
One month earlier, 36 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for Martinez and 56 percent said they preferred King. Eight percent of Hispanics were undecided at that time.
Anglo voters favored Martinez strongly in the latest poll, with 59 percent saying they would vote for the Republican.
Thirty-three percent of Anglo voters said they backed King and 9 percent said they were undecided. Those numbers remained relatively steady over the past month.
Voter registration under the Democratic Party label continues to dominate registration in New Mexico, with 47 percent of voters signing up as Democrats. Republicans claim 31 percent of registrants; decline to state, or independents, 19 percent; and other parties, 3 percent.
The new Journal Poll found that more than one in four Democrats preferred Martinez over their own party’s candidate, King, who had 59 percent backing from Democrats overall.
Specifically, 27 percent of Democrats said they preferred Martinez while 13 percent of Democrats said they were still undecided. A month earlier, Martinez was backed by just 21 percent of Democrats with 12 percent undecided.
Martinez has also made gains among independent voters. Her support grew to 61 percent of independents in the latest poll, compared with the 55 percent of independents who backed her in mid-August. King’s support from independents declined to 28 percent from 35 percent last month.
Meanwhile, Martinez’s position among Republican voters is strong. Eighty-six percent said they would support the governor, up one point from last month. King showed slight gains among Republicans, claiming 10 percent of those voters, compared with 8 percent last month.
Regionally, Martinez continued to hold her strongest advantages in northwestern New Mexico and on the state’s east side.
King’s only regional advantage over Martinez was in the state’s north-central region, a traditional Democratic stronghold, where he showed a 53-40 percent edge.
Sanderoff said King will need to get aggressive with campaign advertising to stop the governor’s growth with about seven weeks to go before the Nov. 4 general election.
“Traditionally, the challenger begins to close the gap after Labor Day, and oftentimes they have held back some of their resources until then. … But in this case, that money does not appear to be in King’s coffers,” Sanderoff said.
“We can expect Gary King to rebound somewhat if he finds the sufficient resources to counter the media ads of the incumbent,” he said.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 603 proven voters who cast ballots in the 2010 and 2012 general elections and said they were likely to vote again this year.
The poll was conducted Sept. 9 through 11. The full voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
Research & Polling Inc. generated a random sample in which each New Mexico county received a representative proportion based on turnout patterns in the 2010 general election for governor. When necessary, Research & Polling weights the surveys to reflect the known distribution of age, gender and party affiliation, based on the 2010 election. Historically, voter turnout is much lower in non-presidential election years, such as 2010 and 2014.
Racial and ethnic proportions are based on Research & Polling estimates of turnout patterns.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both landlines (73 percent) and cellphone numbers (27 percent) of proven general election voters were used.