Democrats avoid infighting in governor’s race

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – With Election Day drawing near, the five Democrats running for governor need more voters like Cynthia Feiden-Warsh and Amy Lafferty of Santa Fe, who ducked into the county courthouse during a lunch hour to cast their early ballots.

Light voter turnout is expected in Tuesday’s primary election, and the big question in political circles is whether that’s a sign that New Mexico Democrats aren’t very optimistic about their chances of toppling Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in the November general election.

Martinez is unopposed in the primary, and the most recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal indicated that Attorney General Gary King was slightly ahead in the Democratic contest with more than a fourth of likely voters undecided going into the final stretch of the campaign.

Feiden-Warsh said Friday she backed Santa Fe businessman Allen Webber in the governor’s race because “he has a real opportunity to beat Martinez.”

She’s fired up about the upcoming election.

“New Mexico has an opportunity to turn around the economy, but people have to come out and vote and they have to get themselves informed,” she said in an interview.

The other candidates are Lawrence Rael, a longtime government agency administrator, and state Sens. Howie Morales and Linda Lopez.

Lafferty declined to reveal who she voted for in the governor’s race, but said she’s ready to support whoever wins the party’s nomination.

“My main interest is to get Martinez out of here. When I first moved here I thought it was a good thing there was a woman governor. She’s horrible. She has these ads about how pro-education she is. I am a teacher. She is not pro-education,” said Lafferty, who teaches English as a second language in an adult basic education program.

Four years ago, when New Mexicans last went to the polls for a gubernatorial primary, about 24 percent of registered Democrats cast ballots when the party’s nominee ran unopposed and 34 percent of Republicans turned out to decide a five-way primary that Martinez won.

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff predicts light turnout this year, potentially about 20 percent of eligible Democratic voters casting ballots. Voters may not participate, he said, because the gubernatorial contest has been “somewhat quiet” and many of the statewide Democratic races are uncontested, including secretary of state, auditor, land commissioner and U.S. Senate. There’s a two-way Democratic race for state treasurer.

Saturday is the final opportunity for voters to cast a ballot before polls open on Election Day.

According to the Journal poll published last weekend, Webber and Lawrence Rael were close behind King. State Sens. Howie Morales and Linda Lopez trailed them.

Throughout the campaign, the Democrats have avoided attacking each other and instead focused their criticisms on Martinez.

Rael and Webber have been airing TV ads throughout May. King launched a TV blitz in the final 10 days of the race, but he already had the best name recognition because he’s a two-term statewide officeholder and the son of the state’s longest-serving governor, the late Bruce King.

Veteran Democratic consultant Harry Pavlides, who isn’t working for a gubernatorial candidate this year, said Democrats must stir up enthusiasm among their supporters to have a shot at defeating Martinez.

“The voters right now, they’re not interested. There’s nobody out there that is interesting them. That’s the problem,” said Pavlides.

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