Wednesday, November 03, 2004

NM: LEANING BUSH, BUT TOO CLOSE TO CALL

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 3, 2004


Once again, the battleground state of New Mexico was too close to call in the presidential race by the end of election night on Tuesday, and both sides remained optimistic.

Shortly after midnight Wednesday, unofficial figures from The Associated Press, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, showed President Bush leading U.S. Sen. John Kerry 52 percent to 47 percent in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral votes.

However, Gov. Bill Richardson noted that many strong Democratic precincts in Northern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation had yet to be counted.

“I think he’ll pull it out,” Richardson said of Kerry late Tuesday. But speaking to reporters at the secretary of state’s office, he predicted a very narrow win for the Democratic candidate.

“I think he’ll win by about 1 percent,” Richardson said. “I’ve said that all along.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the state Bush campaign predicted a victory for the president in New Mexico.

“We’re up by 20,000 votes,” Danny Diaz said in a telephone interview. “We’ve run the strongest Republican campaign this state has ever seen.”

Diaz was interviewed shortly after national news networks had called Ohio and Alaska for Bush, pushing the incumbent president’s electoral college count to 269, one electoral vote shy of victory.

“This state could deliver it to Bush,” Diaz said. “We’re trying to beat Nevada to the punch.”

Santa Fe County apparently chose Kerry by a wide margin. With 86 of 87 precincts reported, Kerry was winning this county by better than a 2-to-1 margin.

However, the Bush campaign chairman in Santa Fe County, Bob Parmelee, said he was very optimistic about Bush winning statewide. “The Democrats are digging themselves into a hole by moving further to the left,” he said. “I hope they keep digging.”

Despite losing the county, local Republicans, who watched election results on televisions at Fox’s Upstairs Bar & Grill on St. Michael’s Drive, seemed to be far more upbeat than Democrats who attended election parties at the Eldorado Hotel and The Paramount, a downtown nightclub.

The crowd at Fox’s cheered loudly every time good returns for Bush were announced on television.

One local Democrat activist, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday he was frustrated by friction between the national Kerry campaign operating here and local Democrats.

“The Kerry campaign played by the playbook instead of by New Mexico rules,” said the man, who described himself as a “disgruntled foot soldier” in the Kerry campaign. “The Bush campaign was better at playing by New Mexico rules.”

“The Kerry campaign wasted people by putting poll watchers in Northern New Mexico,” he said. “They should have had those people in places like Clovis.”

Richardson and Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron said that despite fears of problems at the polls, the election ran relatively smoothly in the state.

“There were no cases of harassment or intimidation,” Richardson said.
Vigil-Giron predicted the final turnout figure would be a record 75 percent of registered voters.

Denise Lamb, director of the state Elections Bureau, said election officials in Cibola County couldn’t locate provisional ballots for some time. Vigil-Giron said voters in Albuquerque’s Paradise Hills were still lined up to vote an hour after the official closing time.

Matt Brix, director of New Mexico’s Common Cause, said there were only sporadic reports of election problems in the state.

Some polling places in Albuquerque had three-hour waits, he said. In Las Cruces some polling places ran out of provisional ballots, Brix said.

Ever the state booster, Richardson told reporters that “the real winner tonight is New Mexico. We got an unprecedented amount of attention.”

The governor noted that in the past, New Mexico “was just a small state that was ignored in the presidential sweepstakes.”

This election was different, however.

Richardson was responsible for part of the national attention. He helped persuade the national Democrats to hold the first televised debate among the Democratic presidential contenders in New Mexico in September 2003.

He convinced the state Legislature to allow parties to have a presidential caucus in February. This attracted visits by most of the Democratic candidates.

Richardson also was chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.
But what attracted the most attention was the fact that New Mexico is such an evenly divided state politically. In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush by a mere 366 votes.

Both Bush and Kerry, their running mates, family members and numerous surrogates made visits to the state this year. Bush appeared in Albuquerque as recently as Monday night, while former President Bill Clinton and Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, led weekend rallies in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

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