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New Mexico very much in play

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- New Mexico was claimed by Spanish conquistadors looking for gold back in the 1500s, and ceded by Mexico to the United States in the 1800s. Now, it's a battleground again.

"The race in New Mexico is extremely tight. The candidates are neck-and-neck and have been so for several months," said the University of Mexico's Chris Garcia.

Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are trying to lasso this state's five electoral votes -- which could be critical in a tight race.

Denish
Denish  

"This is the most intense effort I've seen to win this state in the presidential column since about 1984," said Diane Denish, a leader in the state Democratic Party.

Plus, it has history of picking winners.

New Mexico is considered a bellwether state, having accurately selected the president every time but once since it joined the Union back in 1912.

To win here, a candidate must seize the state's cultural diversity -- celebrated at the annual state fair in Albuquerque.

Hispanics total about forty percent of the state's population. Annitra Atler says Gore is in step with her.

"Education is big, especially with New Mexico being so low in teacher pay and other issues, health, medical coverage for families."

Hispanics historically vote Democratic here, keeping this state from being a Republican stronghold like much of the West. But Bush has shown he's in tune with them.

"He has the right answers for what I'm after," said one Hispanic voter.

The candidates also need to win over women. Many are still undecided, like Lily Montoyo, who said: "I'm waiting until they debate, so right now, I'm undecided.

And like the rides along the state fair midway, the state tends to swing wildly.

Garcia
Garcia  

"The state is very balanced in its voting patterns between Democrats and Republicans, and has been so for a long time," Garcia explained.

Bush's base is in Albuquerque, while Gore's strength comes from the artsy area of Sante Fe.

The campaigns say the difference may be made in footwork. Every day Democratic Party volunteers walk the Sante Fe precincts to ensure Gore supporters go to the polls.

But Bush followers also are targeting Sante Fe looking for converts. Both sides have poured about $250,000 each in ad buys here in the past month.

There's no escaping this tight race, event at the state fair.

Both campaigns say in a tight competition, the race for New Mexico will go down to the wire.

 
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WHERE THEY STAND
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THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

ELECTION GUIDE
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Monday, September 25, 2000


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