It was presumed that it would be Tim Keller and Dan Lewis in a runoff, but this poll makes that face-off cloudy at best.
BY PETE DINELLI
On Sept. 5 KRQE reported the first poll of any news agency in the 2017 mayor’s race.
Since mid-July, political insiders have claimed private campaign organization polls had Tim Keller with a comfortable lead with his numbers in the high 20s or low 30s, while Dan Lewis and Brian Colón were running neck and neck for second place, with all other candidates having very low single-digit poll numbers.
Inside sources have also said campaign polls showed a high “undecided” number of voters, as much as 43 percent. The KRQE poll appears to have confirmed this, however some candidates did not perform as well as expected, especially Lewis and Keller.
The consistent take on the race has been that it will be Keller and Lewis in a runoff, but the poll makes that face-off cloudy at best. The poll surveyed 500 likely registered voters and conducted by automatic phone calls with a margin of error which reduces accuracy.
The poll was also taken before any of the candidates began to spend on radio and television commercials. KRQE reported each of the candidates polled as follows:
Democrat State Auditor Tim Keller: 22 percent
Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis: 11 percent
Former Democratic Party Chair Brian Colón: 10 percent
Republican County Commissioner Wayne Johnson: 8 percent
Independent retired APD Police Officer Michell Garcia Holmes: 6 percent
Republican businessman Ricardo Chavez: 5 percent
Democrat Gus Pedrotty: 1 percent
Independent Susan Wheeler Diechel: 1 percent
The biggest winner in the KRQE poll was “undecided” at 36 percent.
Based on the numbers, the poll is probably more a reflection of name recognition than public support, which would explain why Keller, Lewis, Colón and Johnson are the top four candidates.
Despite all the mayoral forums held, local press has been dormant on covering the race and content has been very skimpy. At least three televised debates have been scheduled.
A 36 percent for undecided voters should not be a surprise seeing as very few candidates are spending money on TV and radio commercials, except for Colón.
In the KRQE report, UNM Political Science Professor Gabe Sanchez suggested that Keller — because he registered 22 percent in the poll, twice as much as the next two top ranking candidates — that it is “plausible” for Keller to get to 50 percent and avoid a runoff.
Expecting that there will be no runoff is wishful thinking given the numbers presented and the fact that the poll was taken before political commercials began to run.
Many political pundits were expecting Keller to have at least 30 percent or more in the KRQE poll given his high name recognition as state auditor, his support within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, his endorsements and substantial union contributions to his measured finance committee or PAC.
Had Keller performed better at, for example, 35 percent in the poll and not the 22 percent he garnered, avoiding a runoff would have been plausible. Based on the poll, it is likely he will be in the runoff but not likely he will get more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Republicans Dan Lewis at 11 percent, Wayne Johnson at 8 percent and Ricardo Chavez at 5 percent are dividing up the conservative Republican vote, with Johnson increasing his criticism of Lewis and within striking distance of overtaking him and giving Johnson the possibility to reach the runoff.
I suspect the combined 24 percent of the poll numbers reflected by Lewis, Johnson and Chaves are highly reliable conservative voters, most likely supporters of President Donald Trump. But if none of these three make it into the runoff, the real question is will their voters sit out the runoff election and not support any Democrat?
Expect campaign spending on commercials to change dramatically. Colón ran TV commercials all last week featuring Attorney General Hector Balderas endorsing him. No other candidate ran commercials.
The Balderas endorsement was critical to help Colón solidify the Hispanic vote as well as the more traditional wing of the Democratic Party in order offset their progressive wing, which is supporting Keller. The Colón commercials began running after the poll was taken and the effect of those commercials is probably not reflected in the KRQE poll.
Keller started 15-second commercials this week, but given the amount of public finance money he has remaining, the ad will get limited play. Over the next four weeks, a considerable amount of money will be spent on radio, TV, phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.
According to the Aug. 11 Campaign Finance Reports, the following are the closing balances for each of the candidates available for advertising:
Brian Colón: $535,579.82
Ricardo Chaves: $373,228
Tim Keller: $227,229.00
Tim Keller Measured Finance Committee: $77,172.00
Wayne Johnson: $207,770
Dan Lewis: $169,600
Michell Garcia Holmes: $33,300
Susan Wheeler Dieshel: $5,955.23
Gus Pedrotty: $3,091
The candidates have no doubt spent and raised more money during the last month. The next finance reports are due on Sunday.
As is the case with any election, voter turnout will be critical. Early voting starts on Sept. 13, and candidates need to double down on media.
The mandatory sick leave ordinance will also be on the ballot and may increase voter turnout, but that will cut both ways as it has the potential to increase voter turnout of both progressives and conservatives.
A coalition of 27 business organizations has formed to oppose the mandatory sick leave initiative and raised over $100,000. You can expect an aggressive campaign to defeat it as was done with the “soda tax” in Santa Fe.
From a historical standpoint, municipal elections have very low voter turnout — between 20 percent and 25 percent. The reliable municipal voters tend to be 50 years and older and conservative. Four years ago, only 19 percent of eligible voters voted in the lowest voter turnout since 1977.
A wild card in the deck is whether or not money will be spent to run negative ads against the candidates, most likely against front-runner Keller. You can count on negative advertising to be initiated against any one of the four front-runners. This will no doubt have an impact on the race because negative advertising works.
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