Thursday, November 03, 2005

Big Bill By The Numbers: Latest Poll Is Dissected Like A Lab Frog; What Does It Really Mean? Plus: Wertheim's World: Top Dem Staffer To Exit 

Any sitting governor would be pretty pleased to get an approval rating of 53% as Big Bill did in the ABQ Journal poll conducted Oct. 13-16, (MOE + or -4.9%) and released Wednesday. But this isn't any governor. This is perhaps the most powerful one in state history; one with international stature who dominates the news. This is a governor who would be President. So when a poll shows 53% and not 63%, the natives get restless and opinions pour forth like the Spring runoff in the mighty Rio Grande.

It’s never easy analyzing polls, as much art as science, and it was doubly difficult this time because of who was polled. "Registered," not "likely" voters, made up the survey of 400 who gave the Guv 53% approval, 24% disapproval and 23% who said they were undecided or had "mixed feelings."

My first take on the poll yesterday was that the Governor was "leaking oil.” And he is compared with the low 60’s approval ratings he was getting. Now, is he leaking oil in the sense that the wheels are about to come off? Not very likely. But he has run up against the reality of New Mexico. There are plenty of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats who will keep any Democratic Guv in check.

Chiming in from his Fourth Floor Roundhouse office, Big Bill Chief of Staff Dave Contarino opined as the late afternoon sun set on the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. “You can put Donald Duck on the ballot against a Dem governor here and he would get 39%," half-chuckled the Guv's right hand man.

Still, the 53%, compared to the 63% he scored among registered voters two years ago, got the Republican blood pumping in ABQ State Rep. Greg Payne. "He is vulnerable. Is he in danger of losing the election next year? Probably not. But if the R's could get their act together they could make the race much closer than expected. Payne added: “The person with the biggest smile on their face is Hilary Clinton," a probable opponent of Big Bill's if, as expected, he seeks the Dem Prez nod in 2008.


Despite being a longtime Big Bill backer, veteran pollster Harry Pavlides said he agreed that the Governor has been leaking oil "but it is normal leakage for a governor in the third year of a four year term.”

“He can get his numbers back to the high 50's with the campaign he is going to run and by slowing down and not repeating the kind of mistake he did by getting that jet plane."

Pavlides’ educated guess on where the Guv stands with likely voters is 55% to 57%. "Joe, there is an unusually large number of undecided when you do a poll with just registered voters. Likely voters are more involved and more decided. Bill’s support will go up with them as will his disapproval rating." He explained.

But Payne was still spinning the other way. "The plane hurt but so has his focus on international and national issues as he positions for a White House run. This is a poor state. He needs to show more focus on issues here. Voters are starting to see him as disconnected from here and its hurting," claimed Payne as he set the table for the 06’ campaign.

Back on the Fourth Floor, Contarino tried another tack. "When people are asked if New Mexico is going in the right or wrong direction, they overwhelmingly say the right direction. That number is just as important as the approval rating,” he asserted.

Both Contarino and Payne disagreed with me that the Treasurer scandal may have had a role in the gubernatorial dip with Contarino maintaining there has been no dip because the poll make-up is not of likely voters. Besides, he spun, “the Governor showed strong leadership skills in handling the matter.“


Big Bill is a victim of his initial popularity and his larger than life personality. If he doesn't perform above average, he is faulted. Republicans have an interest in keeping the expectations high; that he should, as Payne put it, “poll approval of at least 60% everytime." If he fails the higher hurdle, they can claim weakness. And If he fails to meet the higher expectations next year the R’s will use it to dampen his national ambitions.

Still, there is danger lurking in the poll. The novelty of a governor running for President can wear thin when the stats keep coming in showing the state in the cellar. He was elected with high hopes and if voters see him straying, they can be quick to pull him back in. It's a balancing act that will keep Big Bill and his political advisers plenty occupied over the next year.


Word comes to us that Vanessa Alarid, the executive director of the NM Democratic Party will soon be leaving her post to return to school. Alarid has been at the center of a controversy that has swirled around state Party Chair John Wertheim this week. The New Mexican's Steve Terrell explores the Alarid angle more .....And from ABQ's City Hall comes word that Chief Administrative Officer James B. Lewis will soon retire. Lewis was mentioned a possible Treasurer replacement for federally-indicted Robert Vigil, but he did not make the finalist list...Republican Barry Bitzer has been named chief of staff for ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez. The job has been vacant since Chavez fundraiser Terri Baird left the post.

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