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Know the West

On the Trail


In the close presidential race, even New Mexico's five electoral votes are worth a fight. George W. Bush has visited three times, Al Gore has stopped by twice, and Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman both showed up in Albuquerque in mid-September. "For the first time in recent memory, New Mexico appears to be playing an important role in the national election," former Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers told the Albuquerque Journal.

The Sierra Club is also keeping an eye on New Mexico, and a recent television ad from the group acknowledges the power of the Hispanic vote. The $200,000 Spanish-language spot, now on the air in New Mexico, criticizes George W. Bush's environmental record. Both major-party candidates have run television ads in Spanish .

As two sons of the political establishment battle it out in the presidential race, another is cruising into the 2nd Congressional District seat in Utah. Democrat Jim Matheson, the son of popular former Gov. Scott Matheson, holds a comfortable lead in the polls over Republican candidate Derek Smith. Smith bested two-term incumbent Merrill Cook in the primary race, but Cook is threatening to run as a write-in candidate.

Congressional races are more evenly matched in Montana, and Democrats have hired a full-time staffer to rally support on Native American reservations - a first for a major party in the state. Organizer Darrell LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe, made a recent appearance at a Blackfeet Reservation high school. "I'm not here to knock the Republicans," he told a group of seniors. "I'm here to get you interested in the political process."

The national group Friends of the Earth recently jumped at a chance to knock the Republicans. At a Sept. 20 press conference, Sens. Slade Gorton of Washington, Larry Craig of Idaho and Gordon Smith of Oregon said Gore had told Friends of the Earth he planned to "announce a decision to remove Snake River Dams." But the trio was quoting from a question posed by the environmental group - not from Gore's middle-of-the-road response. "These guys are looking like the Three Stooges," said Friends of the Earth spokesman Mark Whiteis-Helm.