- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The John McCain for President headquarters here is exactly what you’d expect in a town of 10,000 planted on the southern rim of the Gila National Forest.

It’s located in the front corner of Billy Mack’s art-and-glass shop on College Avenue, this one-time mining community’s main tourist drag. There’s a big McCain poster in the window, a stack of yard signs inside, and Mr. Mack himself, who’s happy to sing the praises of his presidential pick in between customers.

What you wouldn’t expect is what lies across the street. Sen. Barack Obama‘s campaign here has rented out an entire storefront run by two paid staffers, one from Arizona and one from New York. On a recent Saturday morning, the office was bustling with a dozen volunteers, many from out of state and one from Europe, but the office’s total volunteer force is closer to 300.

How many volunteers does the McCain campaign have in Silver City? “Very few,” Mr. Mack said.

“As hard as Obama is hitting Silver City - and they’ve got a paid lawyer over there - that’s how hard he’s hitting New Mexico,” Mr. Mack said. “It’s unbelievable. I mean, this is podunk New Mexico.”

As a former community organizer, Mr. Obama apparently knows how to organize a community. His campaign is running an unprecedented 39 offices in New Mexico, almost three times as many as the McCain campaign, and polls show it’s paying off.

The most recent surveys show Mr. Obama breaking away from Mr. McCain in the once-tight race. A Rasmussen Report survey released Oct. 13 showed Mr. Obama leading his Republican opponent by a margin of 55 percent to 42 percent.

A Survey USA poll released Oct. 15 showed Mr. Obama with a similar lead, 52 percent to Mr. McCain’s 45 percent.

Both candidates have targeted New Mexico, which in recent elections has built a reputation as the “swingiest” of the swing states. Four years ago, the state backed President Bush, a Republican, by 5,988 votes. That was a virtual landslide compared with what happened in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won New Mexico by a scant 366 votes.

Even so, it must be remembered that New Mexico, with just five electoral votes, isn’t exactly California. The Obama campaign justifies its over-the-top effort here by pointing to its decision to seek votes in the state’s Republican strongholds.

“The campaign very early on made a commitment to move beyond the traditional Democratic areas and expand its operation,” said Mr. Obama’s New Mexico deputy communications director, Carlos Sanchez, who works out of the campaign’s Albuquerque headquarters. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find an area of the state where we don’t have an office.”

Not just an office: The Obama campaign also has at least one paid staffer at each office, with staff members serving no more than two offices. That includes conservative rural communities such as Roswell and Carlsbad in southern New Mexico as well as Republican outposts such as Farmington and Aztec in the state’s northwestern quadrant.

The McCain campaign, by contrast, has followed the more traditional election path of locating its offices in the state’s largest cities.

“We have hundreds of volunteers reaching thousands of voters each week,” said Shira Rawlinson, the state Republican Party’s communications director. “We’re doing great. The volunteers are energized.”

Indeed, a visit to the McCain campaign’s main Albuquerque headquarters showed dozens of volunteers and staffers preparing to descend on the area with a door-knocking effort. In a vast and sparsely populated state such as New Mexico, however, it’s not easy to reach voters in the most remote corners.

Mr. Mack, for example, said he didn’t get his McCain yard signs until Oct. 10. In the meantime, he said, Obama volunteers had blanketed the town with “Obama ‘08” posters and bumper stickers.

Voters in downtown Silver City trend Democratic, while those outside town tend to be more Republican. “The problem is, Obama’s been campaigning here for a year, and it’s tough to compete with that,” Mr. Mack said.

The Obama campaign is also putting out the call to volunteers in neighboring states. Those in Arizona, Mr. McCain’s home state, are being told to come to New Mexico, while those in California, where Mr. Obama is expected to win handily, have been urged to spend their weekends helping the campaign in up-for-grabs Nevada.

“These people from Arizona are coming over from Phoenix because they feel their vote doesn’t count much over there as it does here because we’re a swing state,” said Gayle Simmons, a New Mexican Obama volunteer.

Janet Bunchman of Chandler, Ariz., and Janet Gonzales of Phoenix both said they drove to Mr. Obama’s Silver City office Friday night to help with the weekend door-to-door effort. Their dedication paled in comparison to that of Mia Hanson, who flew in the previous day from Denmark.

Why? “Obama is a really big thing in Europe as well,” said Miss Hanson, a student. “We’ve got to get Obama elected.”

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