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Albuquerque Journal

Richardson Ahead 14% In Survey

September 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Albuquerque Journal. All rights reserved. 

Buoyed by strong support among members of his own party and a good showing in the Albuquerque area, Democrat Bill Richardson has a double-digit lead over Republican John Sanchez in the governor's race, according to a Journal poll.

However, the lead is not insurmountable, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc.

Richardson was backed by 50 percent of the registered voters in the first Journal poll of the general election, while 36 percent backed Sanchez.

With the Nov. 5 general election seven weeks away, 11 percent of the voters said they were undecided about the governor contest. Green Party candidate David Bacon had 3 percent.

"Bill Richardson has a comfortable 14-point lead, but this race is not over by any stretch of the imagination," said Sanderoff, whose firm conducted the statewide survey. "I believe this race has narrowed some already and it's going to narrow further."

For Sanchez to win, he needs to pick up "the lion's share of the undecided and switch some of the Republicans and conservative Democrats, who are currently in the Richardson camp," Sanderoff said.

"It's going to be harder for Bill Richardson to pick up the remaining undecideds because he's already known among that group," Sanderoff said.

Richardson enjoys "quasi-incumbent status" in New Mexico as a northern district congressman from 1983 into 1997 and then serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Energy secretary under President Clinton, Sanderoff said.

"John Sanchez is still establishing his image among the electorate," he said.

Sanchez, an Albuquerque roofing contractor, first gained political fame two years ago by beating then-House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, a longtime GOP target, in state House District 15. In the June primary election, Sanchez pushed aside Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley in a three-way race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 8 through Sept. 13, although no polling was done on Sept. 11. Survey results are based on random interviews with 734 registered voters statewide, who said they plan to vote Nov. 5. Results of the total sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

The governor's race has begun to turn negative, Sanderoff said, with Richardson on Friday launching television and radio advertisements critical of Sanchez.

"This race will become very hard-hitting before it's over," Sanderoff said.

Both candidates have strong support from voters of their own party, the poll found. Richardson was backed by 75 percent of Democrats surveyed, while 72 percent of Republicans supported Sanchez.

The race has received national attention because both major party gubernatorial candidates are Hispanic. But, among Hispanic voters interviewed last week in the Journal poll, Richardson had a wide lead over Sanchez.

"Richardson is supported by 71 percent of Hispanic voters," Sanderoff said.

Sanchez and Richardson were close among Anglo voters, although poll data indicated Sanchez had a slight edge.

Geographically, Richardson was well ahead of Sanchez in north central New Mexico, the area he formerly represented as a U.S. House member.

Richardson also led Sanchez in the vote-heavy Albuquerque area, 49 percent to 38 percent. The two were in a virtual tie on the state's less populous east side, Sanderoff said.

"The east side is where I expect John Sanchez's support to increase because it's a conservative area," Sanderoff said.

Eighteen percent of Republicans polled said they were likely to vote for Richardson on Nov. 5, while 14 percent of Democrats favored Sanchez. Democrats enjoy a 1.6 to 1 voter registration edge over Republicans in New Mexico.

"For a Republican to win, they have to receive a higher percentage of the other party's support and right now, Richardson has a higher percentage of Republican support than Sanchez has of Democrats," Sanderoff said. "For Sanchez to win, that trend has to reverse."

Bill Richardson was performing better among younger voters, while Sanchez's support was strongest among seniors.

The New Mexico Green Party hopes to regain major party status in New Mexico through Bacon's candidacy. Bacon, a Santa Fe energy consultant, needs to capture 5 percent of the votes cast in the Nov. 5 general election for that to occur.

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