New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is viewed by many as highly likely to win re-election by a large margin, and if she does, one of the groups that she will have to thank for it is conservative Democrats.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who is running for re-election on the ticket with Martinez, told Fox News Latino that "conservative Democrats, who are primarily Hispanics" have been important backers.
"Hispanics in New Mexico are not a monolithic block as far as they cast their votes," Sanchez said. "They want leaders they can related to, and leaders who will offer solutions to the challenges facing theme every day – their kids' education and ability for them to have a good job."
To wit, Sanchez said, the state with the highest Latino percentage of the general population is led by three conservative Latino Republicans – him, Martinez, and Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Duran is also running for re-election.
But the nation’s first Latina governor is not taking anything for granted. Martinez, a Republican, has a huge war chest that crushes that of her opponent, Democrat Gary King.
King, New Mexico’s two-term attorney general, had a balance in his campaign account of $157,730 at the beginning of this month – chump change compared to Martinez’s nearly $3.8 million.
The Republican Governor’s Association has taken out ads – to the tune of about $350,000 – supporting Martinez.
Overall, Martinez leads King in most regions of the state.
The only area where King outshone the governor was in north-central New Mexico. That area includes Democratic-leaning Santa Fe, Española and Taos and counties with large Latino populations.
In those areas King leads Martinez 59 percent to 30 percent.
Overall, Martinez trails among Hispanic voters with 36 percent supporting her and 56 percent supporting King.
New Mexico’s population of roughly 2 million is nearly 50 percent Latino, the highest share in the nation. More than half a million Latinos in the state are eligible to vote, according to Pew Hispanic Research.
Martinez has backing from 20 percent of Democrats polled while 12 percent said they were still undecided. Hispanic Democrats who opted to throw support behind Martinez contributed a key role to her 2010 victory.
“A race with an incumbent is always the incumbent’s to lose,” said Lonna Atkeson, University of New Mexico political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy. “Gov. Martinez has a lot of charisma, she looks very confident when she speaks.”
And in a state where registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans, Martinez has proved adept at attracting voters across the aisle.
“In New Mexico, a candidate has to be able to put together a coalition of voters,” Atkeson said to Fox News Latino. “Any Republican has to develop a base where they’re going to cross over from other parties.”
King is no weakling, however.
He has name recognition in New Mexico, where his father was governor.
“He’s fairly wealthy and has name legacy,” Atkeson said. “His strength is that he has been a tried and true political figure in the state for a long time.”
But, she added, he lacks Martinez’s charisma, and has not been able to generate much excitement among the electorate.
A few weeks ago, he drew negative press when he said that Martinez "does not have a Latino heart.”
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said to Fox News Latino that King’s comment indicated an assumption that Hispanics should think alike, and anyone who has views different from the stereotype can’t be really Latino.
“It’s treating Hispanics as a herd and not as thinking individuals,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from King's campaign or the state Democratic organization about his candidacy were unsuccessful.
King has taken aim at Martinez’s handling of the state’s economy, criticizing her, for example, for giving large corporations tax breaks.
The Republican Party of New Mexico said Martinez is the better choice.
“Being the first Hispanic female governor, she fights for conservative efforts and is focused on making New Mexico a better place to live economically by providing better jobs, she fights for better education and helps small business flourish,” said Emily Strickler, the group’s communications director. “New Mexico has a six-decade long history of Democrat legislative control that has put us at or near the bottom on the very issues Gov. Martinez is trying to rectify.”
“According to recent polling, it appears the public supports her reelection,” Strickler said. “She wants to boldly change decades of a culture that promotes and accepts low expectations.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.