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On the Road: Gallup, New Mexico

John Kerry beat George Bush by 5,700 votes and a little better than 63%-36% in McKinley County, New Mexico. That’s a mirror image of the 5,988 votes by which Bush won statewide. McKinley represented 2.7% of the overall New Mexico vote. Parts of the Navajo nation and Zuni reservation spill into McKinley.

In our personal Gallup poll, it seems clear Barack Obama will exceed the Kerry margin in McKinley, simply because Democrats are working with an unprecedented presence here. Having an office open 2-3 months before a general election versus sweeping in for the final 10 days makes all the difference, especially in a state where early voting by mail needs to be organized well ahead of time. The Obama Gallup office is a block north of I-40, here.

Out House -

During our midday stop, one man stopped into register to vote, and other voters dropped in for information about Thursday’s Obama rally in Española, NM. One of the two native Navajo field organizers deftly and successfully turned it into a volunteer recruitment opportunity. Other volunteers were out canvassing. Because these rural New Mexico counties are so far-flung and gas is so expensive, it’s hard to doorknock and subsequently return to the office the same day. Volunteers (85 at the office opening a month ago) have autonomously adapted to this challenge, often picking up walk packets on a weekly basis and reporting voter file information back via phone each night.

That underscores the basic theme of the Obama ground effort: “Respect. Empower. Include.” It’s similar to the corporate model of giving employees an ownership stake in the company. Allowing grassroots volunteers to feel ownership in the campaign as opposed to being dictated instructions by organizers is a principle the Obama campaign has worked hard to actualize. In Gallup it seems to be working.

In Grants, New Mexico, we stopped into both the newly-opened Obama office – one of 36 with four more impending – and found the Republican Party office. McCain has 10 offices open statewide with more set to be announced on Friday, but the state Republican Party has smaller volunteer offices open in every county, and this was one of those. Grants went for Kerry also, but by a much closer margin (436 votes) and for only 1% of the statewide vote total.

This, too, is a county with heavy minority population. 44% are native, 33% Latino, and the rest Anglo. Much of the county is canvassable by drive-honk only rather than the compressed housing that allows for walking. Most of the latter is in Grants itself.

Betty Hill, a volunteer for McCain’s campaign and not a paid organizer, staffs the Republican branch office approximately 40 hours a week. She has a full phone list for the entire county of Republican-registered voters that she calls through looking for volunteers and reminding to vote by mail. When we crossed her path, another woman had stopped in the office for a McCain-Palin yard sign that she wanted to place on her rock-ribbed Republican mother’s grave site.

Which reminds me of something Betty did not express but that McCain organizers have done – give me “the look” whenever the subject of yard signs has come up. We can assure you that the McCain organizers and the Obama organizers have at least one thing in common – hatred of yard signs. There is not a red America, or a blue America, there is the united organizer-hating-of-yard-signs America.

Tonight we also stopped in for an appearance on Jim Villanucci’s KKOB 770 AM drive time radio show to talk electoral politics. Thanks to fbihop for setting it up. Tomorrow, we cross paths with Barack Obama’s rally in Española as well as the opening of a new John McCain field office ironically across the park from the rally. We’ll get you photos (look for a bunch more tomorrow) and the official comments from both campaigns about their statewide efforts.