Poll: Clinton's lead in blue state New Mexico down to four points -- thanks to Gary Johnson

Who cares about a state with five electoral votes? Well, you do. Clinton’s path to victory should be familiar to you at this point after months of polling. If she holds all of the traditional blue states, including and especially Pennsylvania, and tacks on New Hampshire, Virginia, and Colorado (all of which were won twice by Obama), then she’s got 271. She can lose Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, etc etc, and still eke through to a win — again, if she holds all of the traditional blue states. If just one flips, she’d be below 270 and Trump would be primed for an upset. Even if that one carries just five electoral votes.

I wasted a lot of pixels this summer writing about the threat to Trump in Utah. He’s unpopular there and has not one but two right-wing third-party candidates gobbling up Republican votes in Gary Johnson and native son Evan McMullin. But as time has passed and more polls have rolled in, Utah seems a safe state for Trump despite his vulnerabilities. The reason is that there just aren’t enough Democratic voters there to help Clinton take advantage. She’s reliably stuck in the mid-20s in the four-way (well, five-way) race. Even with Trump pulling less than 40 percent of the vote, he should win easily. I say that as an introduction to this new poll of New Mexico from the Albuquerque Journal since it suggests New Mexico might be the Democratic equivalent of Utah, a state that’s supposed to be in the bag but isn’t this year due to a combination of the favored party’s nominee being disliked and the third-party challenge being unusually strong. Except Hillary faces a special threat there: Gary Johnson was, of course, a two-term governor of New Mexico. He doesn’t have the name-recognition problems in that state that he has elsewhere. If he can pull a quarter to a third of the vote, with most of his share coming from Hillary’s base, suddenly New Mexico is in play. And strong turnout for Trump from Republicans looking to seize on Clinton’s vulnerability could turn the state red, a crucial win in a tight election.

Democrats have been warning young liberals not to turn Hillary into Al Gore by defecting to the Naderesque Johnson. There are lots of states they worry about in saying that, starting with the tight races in Florida and North Carolina, but New Mexico is where the Nader effect might show up most dramatically.

Clinton received 35 percent support and Trump 31 percent support. Twenty-four percent of New Mexicans favored Johnson, a former governor of the state, while 2 percent favored Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to the poll conducted last week by Research & Polling Inc…

When the third-party candidates – Johnson and Stein – were removed from the Journal poll and voters were asked who they preferred in a head-to-head matchup between Trump and Clinton, Clinton’s lead increased from four points to 10 points

Sanderoff said Johnson’s presence in the race is hurting Clinton more than Trump in New Mexico. He said the former two-term New Mexico governor garnered the support of 31 percent of New Mexico Hispanics, who traditionally tend to vote heavily Democratic in the state…

Among independent voters – or those who declined to state a party affiliation – Gary Johnson led all candidates in the four-way field. Among these voters, Johnson had 42 percent support, while Clinton polled at 26 percent, Trump at 14 percent and Stein at 6 percent.

Johnson’s above 40 percent and leading by double digits among independents, huh? If you had to bet on the state, you’d bet that Clinton pulls it out for the simple reason that splashy polls like this are, to some extent, self-correcting. Some number of Democrats, especially Hispanic Democrats, are leaning Johnson right now likely because they’re under the mistaken impression that the state’s a lock for Hillary. If the winner is foreordained then you might as well vote your conscience. Once this poll drops and people realize that the winner isn’t foreordained, some Johnson voters are bound to tilt back towards Clinton due to lesser-of-two-evils reasoning. It’s a Democratic version of what’s happening in Texas right now, I think. Trump’s leading by only single digits there partly because, I assume, a certain number of Republican leaners have decided it’s not worth wasting a vote on him in a state he’s destined to win. If we get a few new polls this month showing he’s still ahead by only single digits, the “Texas in play!!1!” fools-gold hype will scare some of those leaners into stating their preference for Trump, however grudgingly, and he’ll pull away.

Of course, there’s another scenario in New Mexico that could scramble the election even further — although the outcome would end up the same as Trump winning the state outright.

Silver’s model gives Johnson just a two to three percent chance of winning New Mexico. The chances that he wins the state and that neither Trump nor Clinton reaches 270 electoral votes because of that are just 0.15 percent. If it did happen, the House of Representatives would decide the election among the three candidates, with the GOP majority almost certain to choose Trump even if Clinton ends up with more electoral votes. I say “almost” because it’s possible that some Republican centrists would decide that Trump is unacceptable as president and would cross the aisle to vote for Clinton, although that would be such an immense betrayal of their own base that they’d need to be prepared to lose their careers over it. The story of the Republican Party over the past 16 months is that virtually no prominent official is prepared to sacrifice anything in the name of stopping Trump. There’s no reason to think they’d change their minds about that once the presidency itself is on the line. So even if Johnson steals New Mexico and sends the election to the House, Trump wins as surely as if he’d won the state himself.

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