50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 47. New Mexico

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

47. New Mexico

Capital: Santa Fe

Nickname: Land of Enchantment

Motto: Crescit Eundo

(It Grows As It Goes)

About the State

Before European settlers arrived in the region, New Mexico was home to many different tribes of Native Americans, including the Apache, Navajo and Pueblo people.  In the 16th century, explorers from the Spanish colony of Mexico traversed the land and the Province of Nuevo Mexico was established in 1598, along with the first colony of San Juan de los Caballeros.  Spain had set out to exploit the indigenous population and their resources, whilst also preventing them from practicing their religion, however the co-existed peacefully for many years as the colonists also provided new farming implements for the Pueblo and a level of protection to them against other Native American nations.  This changed in the 1670s, when a drought hit the area and led to famine, as well as more raids from nomadic tribes and in 1680, the Pueblo revolted against the European colonists, driving them out of New Mexico under the leadership of Popé – who had previously been arrested by the Spanish on suspicion of witchcraft.  The absence only lasted 12 years before the Spanish returned to Santa Fe – which is the oldest capital city in the United States – and took back control without any bloodshed.

Spain retained possession until 1821, when Mexico achieved its independence and the region remained part of the new country, until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican-American war and ceded Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico to the United States.  The northeastern part of the newly acquired area had been previously claimed by Texas, but in the Compromise of 1850, they gave up the land in exchange for $15 million.  That same year, Congress organised the New Mexico Territory, which also included the future state of Arizona and part of Colorado.

With a population of over 60,000 in 1850, New Mexico sought statehood and its proposed constitution included a provision to allow the people of the territory to determine if slavery was to be permitted or not, but the divide in Congress over the issue ultimately resulted in the tabling of the bill that would have made it a state in 1861.  During the Civil War, New Mexico became the western front of the conflict between the Confederates and the Union, with both claiming the Territory as their own.  In 1862, while trying to forge a path to California, which was controlled by the north, the Confederate Army defeated the Union in the Battle of Glorieta Pass.  Nevertheless, the south’s supply train was destroyed by their opponents and many of their horses and mules were killed or driven away, forcing the Confederates to ultimately withdraw all the way back to Texas.

At the same time as the Civil War was being waged primarily in the eastern part of the United States, conflict was also occurring between the US army and the Navajo people in the New Mexico Territory.  The indigenous tribe lived in the region that now covers the Four Corners – the meeting place of the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah – and believed their homeland – located in the midst of four mountains, one in each of the cardinal directions – to be sacred and thus the Navajo sought to defend it from raids by other tribes and the military.  The US had established Fort Defiance in New Mexico Territory (in an area that is now part of the state of Arizona) and, believing they were bringing in troops to wage war against them, the Navajo, led by Manuelito and Barboncito, attacked the Fort in 1860.  Following this, the army pursued a course of relocating the Native Americans to a reservation in southeast New Mexico, known as Bosque Redondo.  As the Navajo were unwilling to leave their sacred land, the US army – under the leadership of Brigadier General James Carleton and Kit Carlson – pursued a “scorched earth” policy, forcing them to move by burning their crops, homes and sheep, leaving them starving and without shelter.

Starting in 1864, thousands of Native Americans were forced to make the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo – during which they were subjected to brutality by the troops who accompanied them, with a shoot-to-kill policy in place to quell anyone who showed dissidence, young Navajo girls raped and pregnant women shot if they were unable to keep up.  Alongside this barbaric treatment, they also faced other  travails on the long journey, such as the crossing of Rio Grande, which resulted in many drowning as they were unable to swim; there was little food available; and they faced attacks from other tribes along the way.  Around 53 separate journeys were made by groups of Navajo, with an estimated 2500 dying en route and a further 8500 held at Bosque Redondo, where they continued to face terrible conditions.  The US had incorrectly assumed that the Navajo, who were primarily hunters and warriors, could adapt to be farmers like the Pueblo people, and those held on the reservation suffered diseases, starvation following a drought, and raids from other Native American nations.  In 1868, a Peace Commission was dispatched from Washington – including the Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman – and, following an impassioned plea by Barbancito, a treaty was signed that allowed the Navajo to return to their sacred homeland.

In 1878, the Santa Fe Railroad reached New Mexico and the territory grew rapidly over the next 30 years, helped by an irrigation project in the Pecos Valley 1889, which encouraged farmers, cattle ranchers and miners to migrate to the area.  On January 6th, 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state of the Union, its current population of just over 2 million residents ranks 36th in the country, while it is the 5th largest of the 50.  During the Second World War, Los Alamos was the location for the development of the world’s first atomic bombs, with the weapons being tested at the Trinity Site in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Its economy is now based around energy, where it ranks third in the nation for the production of crude oil and natural gas; agriculture, with its main outputs being cattle, dairy products, pecans and chile peppers; and Federal Government jobs, in particular the military, as three air force bases are located in the state.  The first space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, has its world headquarters in Las Cruces and is in the final stages of testing its aircraft before it will send ordinary citizens into space – with Stephen Hawkings, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie all reportedly being ticket-holders.  Aside from trips to the cosmos, New Mexico is also a place to go if you enjoy funny place names – the town of “Truth or Consequences” is just South of “Elephant Butte”.  It also cannot be left unmentioned that Albuquerque is the setting and filming location for AMC’s Breaking Bad, the TV show about a chemistry teacher turned meth cook.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 5

2008 Result: Obama 56.7% McCain 42.0%

Latest Poll: Obama +9%

Democrats have won New Mexico in 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections, with the once exception being in 2004 when President Bush carried the state.  Prior to Bill Clinton winning there in 1992, GOP candidates had recorded six consecutive victories there, but the new trend appears likely to continue, with President Obama having a strong lead in the polls for this November’s contest.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in New Mexico this year, with Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who has served since 1982, not seeking re-election.  The race to replace him is between Democrat Martin Heinrich, who is currently serving in the House of Representative for the state’s 1st District; and one of his predecessors in that role, Republican Heather Wilson, who was a Congresswoman for 10 years from 1998 onwards.  Heinrich currently has a 10 point lead in the polls and the seat is expected to be held by the Democratic Party.

The state has 3 Representatives in the House, of which 2 are Democrats with 1 Republican, a ratio that is expected to remain the same after this November’s ballot.

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