Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico by 366 votes in 2000, closer than the contested Florida race, and the Southwest battleground could be just as tight this year.
President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry are saturating the state with television advertisements and making frequent trips as well, making New Mexico a Top 10 target for both campaigns. Mr. Kerry can't afford to lose Gore states, especially this one.
New Mexico has just five electoral votes out the 270 needed to win the presidency, but they could be critical. Mr. Bush beat Mr. Gore by just four electoral votes in 2000, after the Supreme Court stopped Florida's recount with Mr. Bush 537 votes ahead.
A poll for the Albuquerque Journal conducted during the Republican National Convention gave Mr. Bush a slight lead, but strategists in both parties expect New Mexico to mirror national polls. If the race is a dead heat nationally, the state should be just as close.
New Mexico is part of a trend in the West and Southwest, where an influx of Hispanics and transplanted white voters are changing voting patterns. Four in 10 New Mexican voters are Hispanic, including the state's governor, Bill Richardson.
Mr. Kerry hopes he can improve the turnout of Hispanic voters, a solid majority of whom vote Democratic.
Mr. Bush hopes to reduce Mr. Kerry's advantages with Hispanics while courting conservative voters in the booming Albuquerque suburbs and rural New Mexico.
BY THE NUMBERS:
5 -- number of electoral votes
366 -- number of votes by which Al Gore won the state in 2000
39 -- percentage of voting age population that is Hispanic
8 -- percentage of voting age population that is American Indian
1947 -- Year that a UFO purportedly crashed in Roswell. True or not, the incident is recognized by the state each February as "Extraterrestrial Culture Day."
New Mexico has voted for the winner in all but two presidential elections since statehood in 1912: Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico in 2000 and Republican Gerald Ford carried the state in 1976.
WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:
Bernalillo County, home to the state's largest city, Albuquerque, is the big prize in the election. It accounts for at least a third of the statewide vote. The metro area tends to vote Republican but has backed Democrats in recent presidential elections, including Gore four years ago. To win, Republican candidates typically rely on majorities in the Albuquerque area as well as eastern and southern New Mexico to offset big Democratic margins in northern areas of the state.
Democrats are targeting two congressional seats. Republican Heather Wilson faces a rematch against Democratic state Sen. Richard Romero in the Albuquerque-area 1st District. Democrat Gary King -- son of New Mexico's longest-serving governor -- challenges first-term GOP incumbent Steve Pearce in the 2nd District in the south.
IN NEW MEXICO FOUR YEARS AGO:
Gore won by 366 out of 598,605 votes cast in the presidential race. It was the narrowest margin of victory by a presidential candidate in New Mexico since statehood. Thirty-one percent of New Mexicans voted before Election Day, either by absentee or early in-person balloting. Bad weather may have played a role in the election's outcome. Heavy snow blanketed portions of the state on Election Day, including a county that went 2-to-1 for Bush but had below average turnout.
Associated Press writer Barry Massey in Santa Fe contributed to this report.