POLITICS

Susana Martinez’s strong Latino support bolsters NM governor's 2016 appeal

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, during the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference at the Las Cruces Convention Center in Las Cruces, N.M. (AP PHOTO/Las Cruces Sun-News, Robin Zielinski)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, during the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference at the Las Cruces Convention Center in Las Cruces, N.M. (AP PHOTO/Las Cruces Sun-News, Robin Zielinski)  ((AP PHOTO/Las Cruces Sun-News, Robin Zielinski))

For Republicans, 40 percent is the magic threshold.

That is the share of Latino votes, the theory goes, that a Republican presidential candidate should get to significantly bolster the chance of a victory.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, has proven that she is in that small circle of Republicans with a national profile who can generate such a level of support among Latino voters.

Martinez is running for re-election against New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat whose father served as governor in the state.

A recent poll in the Albuquerque Journal showed Martinez, who is seeking a second term, getting 40 percent of Latinos who indicated they planned to vote. King, a two-term attorney general, would get 50 percent of the vote. The others say they’re undecided.

Latinos comprise 47 percent of New Mexico’s total population.

Among all voters in the state, Martinez has led King by double digits – quite a feat in a state that typically prefers Democrats.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters said they favor Martinez, while 38 percent back King and 9 percent were undecided.

Those who’ve been tracking Martinez’s political career know her current showing among Latinos – strong for a Republican – is no fluke. She got nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote when she first ran for governor in 2010. That same year, Republicans running for office around the country were able to get about 20 percent of the Latino vote.

Martinez manages to enjoy hefty Latino support – and support among New Mexico voters in general – despite serious problems dogging the state, the Wall Street Journal reported.

New Mexico ranks low, sometimes at the very bottom, nationwide on such things as job growth and child welfare. Martinez has attributed the job growth weakness on what she says is the state’s over-reliance on federal government jobs. When the economy is struggling, she has said, the state suffers disproportionately.

“She has done nothing substantive to fix the problems of New Mexico,” said Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King’s campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Martinez told the Wall Street Journal that many of New Mexico’s problems predated her.

“She has done a pretty good job of placing the blame of the slow recovery on the federal government and not so much on her,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico, according to the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of folks here say, ‘Well, it’s not her fault.’ ”

The kind of appeal Martinez has been able to sustain among Latinos and voters who are not registered Republicans is the kind that the GOP has indicated it would like in a presidential candidate in 2016.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who ran in 2012 against President Obama, got only 27 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 71 percent for Obama.

That led to talk among Republicans and political scientists about how President George W. Bush was able to get more than 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and how, given that about 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

If Martinez draws 40 percent or more of the Latino vote next Tuesday, her stock likely will rise as a strong contender for 2016, though the governor has tried to downplay the idea of her running when reporters have raised the question.

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