Political Tourism

In the next few weeks, expect a crop of outsiders to flock to New Mexico. They're not coming to peruse the state's famed art galleries or to hike its enchanted lands; the draw for this latest influx is the upcoming presidential election. Because New Mexico is a swing state, with Gore winning New Mexico by just a couple hundred votes in the last election, supporters of both Bush and Kerry are traveling from as near as Texas and as far as Maine to help sway New Mexicans to their candidate of choice. Jennifer Nation, a University of Texas at Austin student, decided to drive 14 hours from Houston to Albuquerque in hopes of getting New Mexicans to turn out for Kerry.


"I haven't given up on Texas," says the 20-year-old, "but I do think it's absolutely going to go to Bush, so I wanted to come to a swing state." Now that she's in New Mexico, Nation has been doing data entry, compiling information about Kerry campaign volunteers and updating information on voters. She will soon go door to door to garner more voters for Kerry. "I feel like the result of this election will not only affect us for the next four years but for the next 40 years," Nation says.

At 59, the last presidential campaign Peter Forbes involved himself in was the one for Eugene McCarthy. But because he's concerned about the deficit, the environment and terrorism, Forbes has traveled from Massachusetts to Santa Fe to help with the Kerry campaign. "The President's foreign policy – I think is a disaster," Forbes says. "I think he talks a lot about terrorism, but he doesn't change the policy, which I think has increased hatred towards the US." Forbes, who was in Santa Fe Monday night, believes one way to raise awareness about issues pertinent to the election is to have workshops in which Kerry supporters write letters to newspaper editors. He's also "calling voters to see how they feel about John Kerry and to encourage them to vote."

Annie Chavez, statewide volunteer coordinator for Kerry's Travelers, a segment of the Kerry campaign devoted to sending people to swing states, says she expects people like Nation and Forbes to come from all over. "Right now, we have people coming in from Maryland, Maine and California, and we're expecting more," she says. "We've had people expressing an interest from Idaho and Iowa."

At the Democratic National Convention, the Kerry campaign urged supporters to travel to swing states. But Chavez said even people unfamiliar with the Kerry's Travelers program are taking the initiative and journeying to such states.

"We have a lot of people who are on their own calling us up and saying that they want to do it," she says. "We're seeing so much commitment to Senator Kerry's campaign. These are people who feel passionately about the campaign and are willing to make pretty personal and financial sacrifices." On Election Day, Kerry's travelers will step up their tactics by providing rides to the polls and baby-sitting for parents.

Via its Mighty Texas Strike Force, the Bush campaign will also send people to swing states such as New Mexico.

Rick Barraza and Adair Margo head the El Paso chapter of the Strike Force and plan to take volunteers to both Southern and Northern New Mexico. "Being in El Paso, we'd love for our city to go for Bush, but we know we can be used better in New Mexico, which is in swing," says Margo, a gallery owner.

According to Barraza, on Aug. 28 a group of 50-100 members of the Mighty Texas Strike Force will travel to Albuquerque. In the week before the election, Barraza says, "We'll relocate to Las Cruces." They'll use the Southern New Mexico city to have a rally for Hispanic Bush supporters, which Barraza says marks the first of such events in the country for this campaign.

While in Albuquerque, "we will be primarily making phone calls, knocking on doors, putting out yard signs," he says, "just really basic grassroots campaign tactics."

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