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New Mexico: Presidential Battleground


Voter turnout across the United States is expected to be heavy on Election Day, which is November second. While every state’s tally will count, results from some states will be watched even more closely.

One of those battleground states is New Mexico, in the American Southwest. In 2000, Democratic Party candidate Al Gore won the popular vote, although he came up with fewer votes in the Electoral College. He won New Mexico, however, by a margin of only 366 votes.

VOA’s Brian Padden has more on this critical state.

The state of New Mexico is getting unprecedented attention from both the Democratic nominee for president, Senator John Kerry and from the Republican nominee, U.S. President George Bush. They come here because this large, sparsely-populated Western state may be the key to victory in the U.S. presidential election.

"Typically New Mexico mirrors the nation," says pollster Brian Sanderoff. He says New Mexico is a key state because it is almost evenly split in its support of the two major candidates; that in a tightly-contested national race winning this state could provide the margin of victory, and that voter trends in New Mexico often reflect the nation at large.

"When Kerry is ahead nationally, he tends to be ahead in New Mexico. When Bush is ahead nationally, Bush tends to be ahead in New Mexico," adds Mr. Sanderoff. "So New Mexico is not only a battleground state in that it is going to be close. It is also a barometer state, or a bellwether state, in that we tend to mirror the nation.”

While New Mexico may vote like the rest of the nation, its makeup is very different. With its desert climate, much of New Mexico remains uninhabited. The northern region, like the city of Santa Fe, is considered a Democratic stronghold. For Santa Fe residents like Diane Terhune, this election will be a referendum on the war in Iraq.

"The major issue of course is the war," says Ms. Terhune. "I'm totally against it and I don't think we should be there. I don't think it is a good thing."

The south and a large percentage of the population that serve in the military traditionally vote Republican. At the center of the state, the city of Albuquerque could go either way.

And it is here that both parties are focusing much of their resources. Country chairman for the Bush/Cheney campaign, Darren White, says their message is clear. "I think many people recognize that after 9/11, the world changed and President Bush was not ambiguous at all about his plan," says Mr. White. "You take the fight to the terrorists so that we don't have to fight them here in America."

It is a message that resonates with many here, like Mark Andersen, 21, who recently joined the National Guard.

New Mexico Democratic Party Communications Director Matthew Farrauto says the war is an important issue in the election but there are other issues too. "The fact that the President misled us into war is a serious concern," he says. "The fact that we are losing jobs, and that 414,000 New Mexicans - just New Mexicans - are utterly without any type of health care."

Healthcare is a key issue here. Minorities, mostly Hispanics and Indians, are more than 50 percent of New Mexico's population. Linda Son Stone is director of First Nations, a non-profit health care provider for urban Indians of Albuquerque. "I think that there are so many basic human needs that are not being met here that the issue of survival is problematic here," she says.

In the end in New Mexico and the nation, says Albuquerque Journal editor John Robertson, people will vote more for the man than for the issue. "Rather than an issue in particular, healthcare or the economy, I think the bottom line with the presidential elections is who do you trust," he says.

And no matter who wins, if the election is close, lawyers will be standing by to challenge the results and demand a recount.

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