POLITICS

Susana Martinez is not making it easy for Democrats in New Mexico leading up to midterm elections

FILE - In this Aug. 22, 2013, file photo, Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez answers a question during a panel discussion at the Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando, Fla. Martinez and Democratic challenger Gary King will square off Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in a televised Spanish-language debate aimed at the state's Hispanic voters. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 22, 2013, file photo, Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez answers a question during a panel discussion at the Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando, Fla. Martinez and Democratic challenger Gary King will square off Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in a televised Spanish-language debate aimed at the state's Hispanic voters. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Democrat Gary King hopes to follow his father's footsteps into the governorship of New Mexico but he's struggled to raise money and make much headway against Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation's only Latina governor.

Martinez has outspent King more than 6-to-1 on television ads and a new poll showed Martinez maintaining a comfortable lead in what's traditionally a Democratic-leaning state. The Democratic challenger had only $123,000 in his campaign account this month as the race entered the final stretch.

"TV isn't everything in a modern world," said King, a two-term attorney general and the son of the state's longest serving governor, the late Bruce King, who won three terms from the 1970s to 1990s.

"I campaign a lot in the style of Bruce King, which is to go out and meet voters face to face," King said at a recent political forum.

An Albuquerque Journal poll released Sunday showed 53 percent of likely voters backing Martinez to 38 percent for King, with 9 percent undecided.

Martinez made history four years ago by becoming the nation's first female Hispanic governor and the first woman elected governor of New Mexico. She's considered a rising star in a party that's searching for ways nationally to appeal to Hispanic voters.

Martinez has succeeded in doing that in New Mexico, where Hispanics account for 47 percent of the population. The latest Journal poll showed two-fifths of likely Hispanic voters supporting the governor. That's strong for a Republican in a state in which Democrats traditionally win by margins of 2-to-1 or better in heavily Hispanic areas.

Martinez also had the backing of 28 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents, according to the poll conducted for the paper by Albuquerque-based Research and Polling.

"We're less than two weeks away from the election and Gary King is still below 40 percent, despite the Democratic Party's 47 percent share of statewide voter registration," pollster Brian Sanderoff said.

His firm surveyed 614 voters over a three-day period last week, and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

A big Martinez victory on Election Day could boost the governor's national political standing, but Martinez maintains she's uninterested in national office or becoming a vice presidential running mate. She pledges to serve the full four years of a second term, if elected, to fulfill campaign promises of improving schools and the economy.

"I am not going to start the day after the election in concentrating on a new career," Martinez said.

"I don't want to be known as a politician," she said. "I think politicians nationwide have earned a reputation sometimes that is very unfavorable because they will say things and then do something else when they get into office."

On education, Martinez wants to end the practice of "social promotion" by requiring schools to hold back third-graders who can't read proficiently. Advancing kids with reading problems to the next grade, the governor contends, increases the risk they'll struggle in school later and drop out. The Democratic-controlled Legislature has blocked the governor's proposal, however.

Karen Erickson, a retired Albuquerque banker, said she supports Martinez because of her education efforts, especially the governor's attempt to stop social promotion of struggling students.

"I think it will really improve graduation rates later on," said Erickson. About 70 percent of the class of 2013 graduated after four years.

King advocates rolling back Martinez administration school policies, including a teacher evaluation system heavily based on student test performance.

Unions are backing the Democrat and trying to boost turnout among teachers and other workers.

"A disenfranchised, disinterested electorate is not good for me," King said in an interview. "We have to encourage people to recognize that they can make a difference if they go vote, and I think that we're going to be able to do that."

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