Even with a Hispanic Republican governor in the midst of a re-election bid, more New Mexico Latino voters side with Democrats when it comes to the ballot box, political experts say.
Gov. Susana Martinez in 2010 became the nation’s first Hispanic woman to win a gubernatorial election, but data from the research website Latino Decisions suggests she accumulated 38 percent of the Hispanic votes during that race against Diane Denish, who generated 61 percent. Martinez netted more Hispanic voters in 2010 than other Republicans in other races nationally, but she did not draw a majority, according to a University of New Mexico political science professor.
Gabe Sanchez, a UNM professor who works as the director of research for political opinion research website Latino Decisions, published an article for the site on Sept. 19 saying Martinez’s 38 percent “is a strong figure for a Republican candidate in the current era where GOP candidates across the country have lost ground with this electorate.”
That figure needs to be put in context, Sanchez said in an Sept. 30 interview. He estimated Martinez grabbed roughly six percent of the Hispanic crossover vote, meaning 6 percent of New Mexico Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the Republican candidate. At the same time, Sanchez said, between one and two percent of Hispanic Republicans opted for Democrat Diane Denish.
Poll taken by Latino Decisions in 2010
“At the end of the day, she probably did better than other statewide Republican candidates would do, but not overwhelmingly so,” Sanchez said. “I think the main thing is that a lot of folks perceived she must have gotten the majority of Hispanic vote in 2010, and that didn’t happen.”
Sanchez said Martinez’s numbers with the Latino electorate fall in similar lines with George W. Bush’s numbers from 2000. He garnered roughly 40 percent of Latinos nationally, Sanchez said.
“Nowadays, it’s overwhelmingly Democratic in terms of the national Latino vote, but as recent as 2004, former President Bush was able to get roughly 40 percent,” Sanchez said.
A September poll from Research & Polling Inc., commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal, shows Martinez’s advantage among Hispanics is on the rise. The poll states 44 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for Martinez, compared to challenger Gary King’s 45 percent. One month earlier, King held a 56 to 36 percent advantage over Martinez.
The poll, sampling 603 registered likely voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Coincidentally, the recent poll opened just after to a controversial comment from King. A video surfaced online where King stated Martinez “does not have a Latino heart.”
“I stand by my friend Dolores Huerta and her words that Susana Martinez lacks the empathy or commitment to the values we share in New Mexico,” King said in a statement after the video surfaced . “This governor’s political machine is operating in high gear with its effort to squelch any sort of criticism of her inadequate and vindictive policies.”
Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said the King comment came as bad timing for King, an Anglo candidate, but Sanderoff cannot connect the shift in opinion among Hispanic likely voters to the remark.
“We don’t know if we can tie A to B on that because we didn’t ask follow-up questions, but it appears it sure didn’t help him,” Sanderoff said. “I’m not going to comment on the message, but I think it’s clear he wasn’t the right messenger.”
However, Sanderoff does not think the comment will hurt King’s campaign over the long haul. The only way it will affect King, Sanderoff said, is if Martinez uses the remark in attack ads against her challenger.
“The governor didn’t hit hard on that one,” Sanderoff said. “She thought that Gary King probably put his foot in his mouth enough and she didn’t need to add to it. She let the media take that one. That issue will go away unless the governor decides to resurrect it.”
Hispanics comprise the plurality of residents in New Mexico. According to the Pew Research Center, New Mexico boasts the nation’s highest percentage of residents who claim to be Hispanic — 46 percent, or roughly 960,000 people. Of those, 550,000 were eligible to vote, making New Mexico’s Hispanic voting block the eighth largest among the 50 states.
Those who participate in the election process, Sanchez said, are savvy voters and do not necessarily make their decisions along party lines. New Mexico has a trend historically of voting for a Democrat for governor (Bill Richardson in 2002) then a Republican for president (Bush in 2004), and vice versa (Barack Obama carried New Mexico in 2008, two years before Martinez’s win).
Also, New Mexico has had a history of U.S. senators representing each major party at the same time. Former Sens. Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, are the most recent example (New Mexico currently has two Democratic U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich).
They are saavy and they make different calculations when they’re looking at presidential races versus governors,” Sanchez said. “This state has a long-standing history of seeing that pattern.”