Internet exclusive caucus analysis
February 4, 2004
It’s official: New Mexico made history Tuesday night. Now whether or not that history is worth repeating in four years is debatable.
New Mexico held its first Democratic caucus on Tuesday, and the newness was clear statewide. Voting problems arose in small and large communities alike.
Voting problems aren’t anything new to New Mexico, a state that has been plagued over and over by voting malfunctions.
But this time it wasn’t the state running the show, but rather the state’s Democratic Party.
The Dems found new and innovative ways of making the whole event a mess.
There was confusion for many voters on the day of the caucus. Some didn’t know what site to go to, and those who arrived at some sites were told they were at the wrong one.
And it seemed the lack of education on the purpose and processes of a caucus created even more of a cloudy picture.
“The caucus is very confusing to people,” said Sue Strickler, a political science professor at Eastern New Mexico University. “Not enough education went into the caucus.”
And now that the caucus has ended, does anyone know what a caucus is?
If you want to get technical, we didn’t really have a caucus, but a one-party, one-office election.
But if the goal was to get the state positive attention, the job was accomplished.
Every presidential candidate made his way to New Mexico during the last few weeks. And a few candidates, including retired Gen. Wesley Clark, came numerous times. He was here four times in the past week. Front-runner John Kerry was here on Monday morning.
Remember the last time New Mexico got that kind of attention? How about never?
“You hear about us being the missing one,” said Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis. “This caucus is putting New Mexico in front of people. Frankly, I think as a state we have tons to be proud of and it seems good when we can bring attention to ourselves and be a player.”
Strickler said it was a good thing the state was being visited by political heavyweights.
“It’s exciting they are paying attention to us,” she said. “We’re becoming a player. If the contest comes in June, the race is already decided.”
Hopefully, the caucus will get more people involved in the political process in the future.
“If people are involved maybe they will be more interested in who gets elected,” said Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington.
Establishing a caucus just made sense, said state officials during their pitch last year to have a caucus in February.
When you take into account the state’s Hispanic population — an area that all candidates are courting — it’s pretty simple to figure out why the state is getting love.
“Hispanics and African Americans are groups that both parties are vying for,” Strickler said. “The factor of Hispanics here is just another thing that puts us up front.”
It’s hard to not pay attention to Gov. Bill Richardson. His high profile has to be a reason why the state got so much attention.
It’s attention that he seems to relish in. Kind of like watching a kid in a candy store.
Remember there’s a big billboard with the governor’s face on it in Times Square.
This is a governor who loves attention. And he got plenty of it during the last few weeks.
“The governor has been getting lots of exposure through all of this,” Harden said. “I’m not sure in four years if we would get this kind of exposure because of who will be governor.”
The governor has brought exposure. But don’t go overboard giving him all the credit.
New Mexico, and the southwest for that matter, is a hot spot. Some of that can be attributed to the fact there are no candidates locked into any of the states out this way. Because of that, candidates had to show up and play. And that they did.
But we should all recognize that on election night there were no candidates in sight.
That just goes to show that while New Mexico has become a player, it’s still hitting in the minor leagues.
The candidates were at the plate, batting for states like North Carolina and Missouri.
How will that change?
Time. And more education.
David Arkin covers the Legislature for Freedom Newspapers on New Mexico. He is a former Freedom reporter and editor. He can be reached at: [email protected]