ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – There will be five names on the Democratic primary ballot when voters head to the polls a week from now, but both polling and pundit opinion indicate that just three of them have a serious shot at winning.
Those three, according to UNM political science professor Gabe Sanchez, are attorney general Gary King, longtime government administrator Lawrence Rael and businessman Alan Webber.
Out of that group, the most well known in New Mexico is also the apparent frontrunner. An Albuquerque Journal poll released over the weekend put King six points ahead of both Rael and Webber. That lead is down significantly from a Public Policy Polling survey from March that had King leading state Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, by 20 points.
Sanchez believes King has benefited from a primary campaign that’s seen the Democratic contenders attacking Martinez but not each other.
“I think what that does is it makes it difficult to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack and as a result of that typically folks with the higher name recognition emerge victorious,” Sanchez said.
Despite his lead in the primary, Sanchez says Rael likely has the best shot of beating Martinez head to head in the general election.
“The obvious factor is he’s the Hispanic candidate among all those on the Democratic side that has the greatest shot of emerging victorious during the primary,” Sanchez said. “I think that neutralizes some of the Governor’s ability to attract moderate Democrats who are Hispanic in her direction and he might generate a lot of turnout among Hispanic voters.”
In 2010, Martinez won 38 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Webber’s strength, Sanchez says, is his proven ability to out raise his primary campaign rivals. That money advantage has allowed him to have a significant TV presence during recent weeks. That advantage may be diminished against Governor Martinez in the general election because of her campaign’s significant cash reserves.
But Sanchez says whoever wins has a tough task awaiting them in the general election, a cash flush incumbent governor who’s enjoyed solid approval ratings.
“If I’m the Governor I’m sleeping pretty easy at night,” Sanchez said. “I really think it would take somewhat of a game changer to really make this a race.”
Part of the problem Sanchez says is that the November election is expected to be a low turnout election, something that typically benefits Republican candidates.
What could change that is a pot decriminalization proposal activist group Progress Now and the Drug Policy Alliance are trying to get on the ballot in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. That could spark voter interest like a similar abortion proposal did at the end of last year.