Even though the death penalty has been abolished in New Mexico, it has made an appearance in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Republican Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez.

Last week, Michael Paul Astorga was convicted of murder and now may face the death penalty. Though Gov. BIll Richardson signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty, this did not apply to Astorga, who killed Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Deputy James McGrane Jr. before the abolishment of the death penalty.

The Republican Party of New Mexico sent out a press release, with a KOB-TV news clip, they said highlighted a “stark contrast” between Denish and Martinez.

Here is Denish’s statement to KOB:

While my opposition to the death penalty is well known, this man killed a deputy when the death penalty was the law of the land. If a jury sentences a murderer to die it would be my sworn responsibility as governor to enforce the sentence and that’s what I would do. My heart goes out to the family of officer McGrane and the entire law enforcement community.

Here is the statement by a spokesman for Martinez:

As the wife of a career police officer, Susana’s thoughts and prayers are with Deputy McGrane’s family today. Martinez supports the death penalty and will make reinstating it a priority. If Michael Paul Astorga is sentenced to death because this crime occurred before the repeal of the death penalty, Susana Martinez will ensure her administration carries out that sentence.

In a follow-up by KOB-TV, Martinez called Denish’s statement “transparently political and entirely inconsistent with her record of opposition to the death penalty” while Denish accused Martinez of attempting “to make this campaign about wedge issues.”

An attempt to reinstate the death penalty last year by then-Bernalillo County Sheriff and current Albuquerque Public Safety Director Darren White never really got off the ground and his attempt to get a repeal of the death penalty abolishment on the ballot failed.

White supported Martinez in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

As for Astorga, he was never confident of being acquitted of the crime. When he spoke to the Santa Fe Reporter’s Dave Maass last year, he said, “From the start, it’s pretty much been a witch hunt.”

A nationwide poll by Rasmussen Reports shows that a majority of Americans support the death penalty. The poll finds that 62 percent are in favor of the death penalty while 26 percent oppose it. Americans are split on its effectiveness as a deterrant, however; 45 percent say it is an effective deterrent, while 43 percent are unsure.

The poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted from June 2-3 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.