POLITICS

Polls Show N.M. Incumbents Widening Their Election Leads; Gov. Martinez Leads Challenger King By 18 Points

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, right, talks about her love of New Mexico-grown green chile before unveiling a new certification program for the state's signature crop during at stop at The Range restaurant in Bernalillo, N.M., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The restaurant is the first to sign up to participate in the program. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, right, talks about her love of New Mexico-grown green chile before unveiling a new certification program for the state's signature crop during at stop at The Range restaurant in Bernalillo, N.M., on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The restaurant is the first to sign up to participate in the program. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Incumbents in New Mexico's races for governor and U.S. Senate are leading their challengers with early voting set to begin next month, according to the latest polls.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has widened her advantage over Democratic challenger Gary King.

Martinez was supported by 54 percent of likely voters who were surveyed and 36 percent backed King in the poll. Ten percent were undecided.

A poll last month for the newspaper found Martinez leading 50 percent to 41 percent, with nine percent undecided.

In the Senate race, Democrat Tom Udall was leading with 51 percent to 38 percent for Republican challenger Allen Weh, the Journal reported. Eleven percent were undecided.

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Udall was ahead in last month's poll 53 percent to 35 percent.

Martinez gained during a time in which she blitzed the airwaves with television ads critical of King, whose campaign lacks the fundraising to match the governor's spending.

The governor's re-election campaign had cash-on-hand of $3.8 million at the start of the month, while King had $157,730 in his campaign account.

"When campaigns become one-sided affairs due to insufficient funding, the challenger can actually run the risk of losing support -- and this is what has happened here," said Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff, whose firm conducted the survey for the Journal.

Martinez was running close to King among Hispanic voters, who traditionally back Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin or more in statewide races.

About 44 percent of Hispanic voters said they would support Martinez and 45 percent favored King, with 11 percent undecided.

A month ago, 36 percent of Hispanics supported Martinez.

In the Senate race, Sanderoff said "it's not surprising to see the gap has narrowed" because Weh has started running ads and voters are learning more about him.

Weh has made significant gains among independent voters, with 41 percent backing Udall and 38 percent favoring the Republican. A month ago, 62 percent of independents supported Udall and 26 percent were for Weh.

Udall is a former U.S. House member who was elected to the Senate in 2008.

Weh is a former state Republican Party chairman and a retired Marine Corps colonel. He owns an aviation business in Albuquerque.

Absentee voting begins Oct. 7, and early voting gets underway at more locations on Oct. 18.

The new poll surveyed 603 registered voters likely to cast ballots in the general election, and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Voters were surveyed by telephone last week.

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