Campaigns Vie For Bellwether County In New Mexico The city of Rio Rancho, N.M., is the hub of a swing county in the middle of a swing state. Both campaigns are working their ground game hard. Democrats are hopeful that Barack Obama's lead in the polls will hold, but Republicans have a long history of turning out big on Election Day.

Campaigns Vie For Bellwether County In New Mexico

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Politically, the state of New Mexico is really three states: a Republican south and east, a Democratic north and a moderate middle where most of the voters live. Four years ago, George W. Bush won New Mexico by fewer than 6000 votes. That was the closest margin of any state. NPR's Ted Robbins paid a visit to the closest county right in that moderate middle.

TED ROBBINS: Sandoval County, New Mexico is about two-thirds the size of Connecticut. Much of it is high desert, Indian Pueblos, stunning vistas. But two-thirds of the county's voters live in a fast-growing suburban area on the south end of the county, Rio Rancho, just across the Rio Grande River from Albuquerque. This is where the Sandoval County vote and maybe New Mexico's will be decided.

ROBBINS: Obama volunteer Marg Elliston is walking door-to-door in a spread-out neighborhood of modest older homes.

Ms. MARG ELLISTON (Obama volunteer): Hi.

Mr. STEVEN LEVINE (Resident, Sandoval County, New Mexico): Hi.

Ms. ELLISTON: I'm Marg. Are you Steven Levine?

Mr. LEVINE: Yes.

Ms. ELLISTON: Hi.

ROBBINS: She holds detailed sheets with voter names, bar codes and boxes to check from strong McCain through undecided to strong Obama. She'll mark Steven Levine and and his wife as strong Obama.

Mr. LEVINE: We like what he stands for. We actually think this is the first decent president since John F. Kennedy.

ROBBINS: That's one of the strongest comments you're likely to hear. Not only is Rio Rancho a fairly moderate community, politics in New Mexico also tends to be fairly low-key.

ROBBINS: So it's a bit surprising that on a Sunday afternoon, things are hopping at the Obama field office in Rio Rancho. The office is in a street mall. Right now it's crammed with at least a dozen new Obama volunteers, listening to Steve Werner explain the voter canvassing sheets.

Mr. STEVE WERNER (Obama volunteer): We have five people who we think live in this house and so we need to identify each one potential voter in that house. So.

ROBBINS: This is one of two Obama offices with paid staff in Sandoval County. The campaign has 39 offices statewide, compared with nine for the McCain campaign. One of the McCain offices is actually two doors down from the Obama office. But the McCain office is closed on Sunday. McCain supporter Jim Ganley stands outside watching.

Mr. JIM GANLEY (McCain Volunteer): Makes me a little nervous. Yeah. You know, I'm a Republican, and I - you know, seems like he has more money, and there's just more enthusiasm when you talk to Obama supporters

ROBBINS: John Butrick joins Ganley. Butrick says he works for the New Mexico Republican Party. The two men are also going to walk neighborhoods today - not for McCain, for a candidate for the state legislature. Butrick says office activity doesn't matter.

Mr. JOHN BUTRICK (Employee, New Mexico Republican Party): Just because we're not, you know, in the office, doesn't mean we're not out working and so. We're going about our business.

ROBBINS: He may be right. Historically, it doesn't take much prodding to get New Mexico Republicans to vote. They are more likely to turn out than Democrats.

Tom Swisstack is Rio Rancho's mayor. Like many New Mexicans, he sounds as laid-back as he appears, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt for our meeting in a coffee shop. Swisstack is a Democrat in a town with a Republican registration edge.

Mayor TOM SWISSTACK (Democrat, Rio Rancho, New Mexico): If everybody came out that could vote, OK, I would theoretically have lost if everybody just voted party line.

ROBBINS: Swisstack says his success is evidence that voters here - Republican, Democratic and independent - are more likely to vote for the person than the party. He says whichever candidate works harder to make one-on-one contact with voters will win. Not easy in this geography.

Mr. SWISSTACK: It's not like New York, Detroit or California, you can just kind of walk next to each other there. This is spread out. You take the effort to come to see me and some of these roads are dirt roads. That means something to me.

ROBBINS: The latest poll shows Obama with a five-point lead statewide. His ground organization could give him Sandoval County. If that happens, look for it to mirror New Mexico as a whole. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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