- 19 Sep 08, 09:14 AM GMT
The sound of ranchera and the smell of burritos filled the air around the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque. This was good news for my taste buds, but bad news for my waistline. I love Mexican food in the same way that most men love their wives, and a week on the bus had done little to help my exercise regime.
I wasn't the only visitor to the area. Yesterday, Barack Obama was in upstate Espanola, pitching his message to the Hispanics who make up 44% of New Mexico's population.
It's not difficult to see why. George Bush took this swing state by a whisker in 2004. Yet whereas over 40% of America's Hispanics are estimated to have voted for the Republican presidential nominee in 2004, it appears that John McCain may now be trailing his rival within the community nationwide by up to 30 percentage points.
Earlier, Jennifer spoke to New Mexico's Hispanic Governor Bill Richardson, who said such voters would be crucial come November:
To find out why the Latino vote appeared to be shifting towards the Democrats, I struck up a conversation with 25-year-old Emmanuel Ortega, a Masters student from Albuquerque.
Emmanuel was born in Los Angeles but raised on the other side of the border in Juarez. He was frustrated by conservative anti-immigration rhetoric, he said, when people like his father, a construction worker, had stepped in to do the jobs that American citizens didn't want.
Bush's decision to build a 2,100-mile fence along the border with Mexico had been the final straw, he added.
"I don't know any of my family and friends who are planning to vote Republican," Emmanuel said.
"With the border, it's like they're sending out the message that people like me aren't welcome.
"And the economy is hurting us just the same as everyone else."
On the other side of the Fair, however, Fernando de Baca, 70, told a different story. The chairman of Bernalillo County Republicans argued that the Latino emphasis on hard work and family values, plus the Catholic church's opposition to abortion, made the community naturally conservative.
He offered another, blunter, reason why he believed John McCain would do well in New Mexico.
"The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors," he said. "African-Americans came here as slaves.
"Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won't vote for a black president."
I wasn't sure about this, though. Virtually all of the Hispanic voters I spoke to told me they were supporting Obama.
So I asked Gabriel Sanchez, assistant professor at the University of New Mexico's department of political science, whether he thought communal tensions were likely to play a role.
"I doubt there are more than 10% of Latinos who think that way - and half of them probably won't even go out to vote," he said.
Gabriel stressed that Hispanics were not a homogenous group. Mexicans in the south west, Puerto Ricans in the north east and traditionally Republican Cubans in Florida did not behave identically, he said.
"But in this election, I think Latinos are going to behave just like other Americans and vote with their pocket-books.
"Obama has poured millions of dollars into reaching out to them. If he succeeds, then he wins the election."
The Democrat may hope so. But this is one section of the electorate that refuses to be pigeonholed.
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