In the race for president of the United States, one of the key battleground states is New Mexico. In the presidential election of 2000, Democratic Party candidate Vice President Al Gore won the state by a margin of only 366 votes. And this year, New Mexico is still a state divided. The state of New Mexico is getting unprecedented attention from both the democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, and from the Republican nominee, President 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," said pollster Brian Sanderoff.
Mr. Sanderoff says New Mexico is a key state, because it is almost evenly split in its support of the two major candidates, and in a tightly contested national race, winning this state could provide the margin of victory, and 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," he explained. "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," she said. "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 state population that serve in the military, traditionally vote Republican. At the center of the state, the city of Albuquerque could go either way.
"I hope that you will be able to vote for President Bush," one resident said.
And it is here that both parties are focusing much of their resources. A county 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 being ambiguous at all about his plan," he said. "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 21-year-old Mark Andersen, who recently joined the National Guard.
"It is the most important election, we're ever going to have," the Democratic volunteer said.
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 mislead us into war is a serious concern. The fact that we are losing jobs, and that 414,000 New Mexicans, just New Mexicans, are utterly without any type of health care," he said.
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 said.
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 said.
And no matter who wins, if the election is close, lawyers will be standing by to challenge the results and demand a recount.