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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New Mexico Gridlock: Prez Race Tied; Vote Count Goes On; Chaos At Polls Has Fingers Pointing; Obama Takes Northern CD; Hill Rules South; Big Turnout 

The 2008 New Mexico Democratic presidential caucus crackled like a hickory fire as the vote count in the state's latest cliffhanger went into the wee morning hours. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought to a standstill. In the end, she took to bed a 117 vote lead that looked shakier than cafeteria Jell-O. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton held 65,845 votes while Obama had 65,728 votes. The rest of the vote went to uncommitted or candidates that had dropped out.

This one is going to overtime, with some 17,000 "provisional" votes having the final word on who is our winner. Counting the provisionals at state Dem headquarters is expected to last all of today, if not longer. Many of those provisionals--cast by persons who did not know their proper voting location or who were not eligible to vote--will be disqualified. Perhaps half of them--around 8,000--will end up as qualified ballots, and it appeared because many of them came from Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, Obama could eke out the victory. (County results here.)

While the big prize was still in the undecided column in the we morning hours, there was reason for Hill and Barack to celebrate--especially the Illinois senator. How about his win in the Northern congressional district? That was the upset of the night as a powerful snow storm discouraged turnout in the heavily Hispanic and pro-Hillary region. Meantime, voter participation went off the charts in Los Alamos County with well over 40% of the registered Democrats there trekking to the polls. They gave Obama 57% of their votes and a 464 vote margin over Hill. If Barack makes it to the White House cutting that Lab budget may be a lot harder to do because of last night.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

There was a collective gasp when news came that Obama blew the doors off in Santa Fe County, scoring a huge 4,000 vote win over Hillary. It really got him in the game as he had been trailing all night as the rural south and east reported in for Hillary. Obama held a rally in Santa Fe just days before the election and Senator Kennedy visited there on his behalf. Bill Clinton was there, but held a private fundraiser, not a public event. Taos County joined Los Alamos and Santa Fe in putting Obama over the top in the Third District.

Obama appeared to carry Bernalillo County by a couple of thousand votes to also take the ABQ congressional district. He lost rural Torrance County. Hillary will have to come back big in the provisional ballots to spoil it for him.

The senator looked like a real city slicker, losing just about every county in the mostly conservative Second District. His performance was incredibly narrow in a geographic sense. He picked up the lion's share of his support in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and the aforementioned Los Alamos. He carried them all. Hillary owned much of the state, but voter turnout was lightest in her strongest areas. Obama also ceded to Hillary Dona Ana, Grant and Eddy--the southern counties with a tinge of liberal Dems.

The Clintonistas were confident they would win that 2nd CD contest and it was affirmed when the exit polls hit early in the evening. Twenty-six of NM's 38 national Dem convention delegates will be divided among Obama and Clinton based on their congressional district performances and their statewide standing. Nine delegates go to the eventual statewide winner.

Exit polls showed Obama slowing Hillary among Hispanics. She fell below 60% with younger Hispanics.

BLAMING BILL


Oh, what could have been, moaned several Clinton supporters as they mourned the decision by Governor Bill not to give Hillary an official endorsement. Perhaps he knew we were in for a squeaker and did not want to take a chance. But if Hillary goes on to lose New Mexico, you can bet her operatives will point a finger of blame Bill's way. His endorsement would likely have pushed just enough state workers into Hillary's camp for her to take the title.

TURNOUT TALE

Chair Colòn
Party officials said 142,739 Dems showed up for the caucus, an astounding number that took them by surprise and wreaked havoc on the process, especially in Rio Rancho. Party Chair Brian Colòn was the subject of universal scorn for only putting one voting place in the entire city of Rio Rancho. Soon it was overflowing with disgruntled voters and TV cameras recording the chaos. Some people had to wait three hours to vote. Many gave up. The chairman could do nothing but accept the blame and concede "an error in judgment." It's one he won't live down for a while. The party would not release any results until all Rio Rancho voters had cast their ballots.

Some analysts said the party appeared to be trying to save money by not printing up more ballots and opening more polling locations. But the NM caucus was going to be a sleeper until Big Bill abandoned his presidential bid and the game was on here. Turnout was nearly 27% of the 533,000 registered Dems, a 33% increase over the 2004 turnout. Colòn could at least point to an energized party posing a danger to the Republicans as he tried his best to fend off critics over the many Election Day snafus that popped up.

WATCH THOSE BOXES


Three Rio Arriba County precinct boxes remain with the chairman of the county Dem party who said they were having controversy over counting them and they would be taken to ABQ and the job done there. Those votes are likely to give Hillary a boost. Don't you think having three boxes full of votes spending the night in Rio Arriba was making the Obama camp nervous? If anything happens, it will make for another great NM election story for your grandkids.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The big picture from Tuesday continues to be the energized Democratic Party that is on the warpath against President Bush. The party may have evenly divided its votes, but they remain united in their disdain for the incumbent Prez. That poses a challenge for NM R's who may have hd a few belly laughs over the problems Dems had administering the election, but sobered up when they realized just how many Dems made it to the polls.

Thanks to Steve Cabiedes, Michael Brasher, Harry Pavlides, Peter St. Cyr and Mark Bralley for Election Night help. And all of you who emailed in your info.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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