Patti Bushee has a big lead over four other top contenders in Santa Fe's mayoral election in the first public poll about the race, but the longtime city councilor also earned the highest percentage of respondents who say they wouldn't vote for her.
In the first public horse race poll of the election season, commissioned by the progressive advocacy nonprofit Progress Now New Mexico, 24 percent of 400 likely voters across the city said they would vote for Bushee. The poll was conducted between Oct. 21-24. Santa Fe's municipal election will be held March 4, 2014.
Trailing behind Bushee in the poll is Javier Gonzales, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party and a former county commissioner, and City Councilor Bill Dimas, a former Santa Fe magistrate judge and cop. Each earned the support of 11 percent of respondents polled. District 2 Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger has support from about 8 percent of respondents while former Santa Fe county manager Roman "Tiger" Abeyta is backed by about 7 percent.
Nine percent of respondents said they absolutely wouldn't vote for Bushee, who has been a city councilor since 1994. That's the highest among the five candidates (the poll didn't ask about two lesser-known candidates, Josina Campos and Michael D'Anna). Five percent of those polled said they wouldn't vote for Gonzales, Dimas or Wurzburger respectively. About 2 percent of respondents said they wouldn't vote for Abeyta.
Both Gonzales and Wurzburger dismissed the results of the poll in interviews with SFR and emphasized they're earning support of citizens through interacting with them during the campaign. (Dimas declined to comment).
"My personal and political belief is that the only poll that matters is the one that's going to happen March 4," Wurzburger tells SFR, adding that it's "awfully early" to begin predicting who's going to win.
"I don't think that people are really interested in polls today," Gonzales tells SFR. He says he's held over 20 house parties in the past few weeks.
Bushee attributes both her lead in those who would and those who wouldn't vote for her to name recognition.
"One side or the other you're going to make people happy or not happy," she says. "I think it correlates with…being the frontrunner as well."
It's no secret that the majority of registered voters in Santa Fe are Democrats. Bushee argues that she's the progressive in the race. Both Wurzburger and Gonzales dispute that claim.
One vulnerability for the District 1 councilwoman, the poll shows, is her lack of support among Hispanic women, a demographic for which she received the lowest amount of support of all the candidates: 5 percent. Gonzales earned the most support, 22 percent, from that block in the poll.
"Patti is going to have to do something to figure out why the sort of the strongest woman in the race is not identifying with Hispanic women," says Pat Davis, executive director of Progress Now New Mexico, "who are going to make up, you know, arguably one of the biggest blocks in this race."
Abeyta's campaign manager, Ray Sandoval, says Abeyta is behind in the pack because candidates like Bushee have name-recognition. His line of rhetoric is that Abeyta is a scrappy underdog who will bring fresh ideas to City Hall. Voters are "tired of business as usual," he says, adding that Abeyta isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves to work on diversifying the city's economy.
"He went from dogcatcher to the county manager position," Sandoval says of Abeyta's career path.
He adds that his campaign is targeting those who've voted in the last two mayoral elections, particularly in the districts of Bushee and Dimas.
The mayor's race is still wide-open, because according to the poll, about 37 percent of respondents said they were undecided, and others said they wouldn't vote. The poll, conducted by Stephen Clermont of Virginia-based Third Eye Strategies, has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Davis says his organization choose Clermont to conduct the poll because he was Mayor David Coss' pollster for his mayoral elections. Although Progress Now New Mexico advocates progressive ideas across the state, it's not endorsing any candidate in the election. Those interviewed for the poll have voted in at least one city election since 2005, "with a small sample of people who have recently registered to vote."
Voter turnout is an especially important factor in Santa Fe's municipal elections because a smaller number of voters have more of a capacity to swing elections. About 27 percent of 46,990 registered voters turned out for local elections during the 2010 mayoral campaign. Coss won with 3,084 votes over his closest opponent. In 2006, 15,434 registered voters—about 30 percent of total registered voters—participated in Coss' first mayoral election. Coss won with 2,345 votes over the closest opponent.
For more detailed results of the poll—including what respondents thought of issues facing the city—click here.