Attorney General Gary King would be the strongest contender against incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez, and she remains slightly ahead in the governor’s race if the election were held today, according to a poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling.
According to the first national poll for New Mexico races made public this year, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and Martinez would handily win in their respective races for re-election.
But some Democrats say the poll shows Martinez is vulnerable.
And despite the decent numbers for the governor, the state GOP denounced the poll as “skewed” with “cooked numbers.” A news release from the party pointed out that the sample of voters surveyed in the recent poll was only 28 percent Republican. Statewide registration numbers as of Jan. 31 show 31 percent of New Mexico voters are Republican, while 47 percent are Democrats.
PPP is a North Carolina-based Democrat-affiliated company.
The poll shows Martinez beating Attorney General Gary King 47 percent to 42 percent. She leads all the other Democratic candidates by double digits.
Udall, a Democrat seeking his second six-year term in the Senate, leads both GOP candidates Allen Weh and David Clement by 20 points or better.
Both Martinez and Udall have approval ratings of more than 50 percent. The poll shows Martinez getting 80 percent approval from Republicans, 51 percent from independents and 30 percent from Democrats in New Mexico.
Potentially troubling for King is the fact that only 29 percent give him a favorable rating, while 35 percent said they view him unfavorably.
The poll indicates low name recognition for the rest of the Democratic field. More than 60 percent said they had no opinion of each of the other gubernatorial candidates. None of the candidates has begun advertising on television.
In the Democratic primary, King — who came in last place at the state Democrats’ pre-primary convention this month — is way ahead of the pack in the PPP poll.
In this poll, King has the support of 34 percent, state Sen. Howie Morales is a distant second with 15 percent, state Sen. Linda Lopez has 13 percent, longtime government administrator Lawrence Rael has 7 percent and businessman Alan Webber has 5 percent.
The pollster warns, however, that the race is far from over. More than 27 percent of those surveyed are undecided. “But it’s a pretty substantial early advantage [for King],” the PPP blog says.
In matchups with Martinez, Rael is behind by 11 percentage points, while both Morales and Lopez are behind by 14 points and Webber by 16 points.
In each of the matchups, between 24 percent and 28 percent of Democrats said they’d vote for Martinez.
In those individual matchups with the incumbent governor, the undecided figure ranges from 11 percent (King) to 20 percent (political newcomer Webber).
“These polls prove what we have been saying all along, said Jim Farrell, King’s campaign manager in a news release. “Gary King’s lifetime of public service to the people of New Mexico makes him uniquely qualified to defeat Susana Martinez in November. She is beatable, and only Gary King can get it done.”
Morales’ campaign manager, Jon Lipshutz, also said the poll shows Martinez can be beat. “Our momentum continues to grow as voters learn more about Sen. Morales, and that will happen even faster as the campaign continues to communicate his message to the broader electorate,” Lipshutz said.
One Democratic campaign not touting the PPP results is Rael’s. The new poll came just a day after Rael released the results of a self-commissioned poll that showed him gaining ground on King and in a much stronger position than PPP indicated.
“Our campaign used a New Mexico-based pollster that has a proven track record for polling here, whereas the PPP poll was conducted by an outside firm without any knowledge or basis in historical voting patterns,” Rael spokeswoman Yasine Armstrong said. “Our sample was more than three times that of the PPP poll, and we believe it more accurately reflects voting distribution throughout the state.”
The Rael campaign declined a reporter’s request for its full poll crosstabs.
Asked Tuesday about the discrepancy between state registration figures and the number of Republicans used in the poll, PPP Director Tom Jensen said his company goes by party self-identification of people interviewed, not registration numbers. The poll found 28 percent of those contacted identified themselves as Republicans, which he said is similar to what the firm has found before in New Mexico.
Jensen said the recent numbers are similar to those in a PPP poll conducted in December 2011, in which party identification was 29 percent Republican and 52 percent Democrat. That poll said Democrat Martin Heinrich was leading Republican Heather Wilson in the Senate race by 7 percentage points. That number ended up being not far off. In November 2012, Heinrich beat Wilson by nearly six percentage points.
“It just surprises me when they attack a poll that says you’re winning,” Jensen said.
In the general election questions, PPP interviewed 674 registered voters (as opposed to “likely” voters) between Thursday and Sunday. Polling experts have said polls of “likely” voters tend to show more Republican strength because higher percentages of Republicans tend to show up at the polls.
For the primary race, the poll is based on interviews of 327 registered Democrats. The pollsters say the margin of error is 3.8 percent for the overall survey. Jensen said the margin of error in the Democratic primary is about 5.4 percent.