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Politics
Navajo council makes second endorsement in same race


Leaders of the nation's largest tribe reversed position on Wednesday and endorsed Democrat Paul Babbitt for U.S. House after doing the same for incumbent Republican Rick Renzi.

The Navajo Nation council voted 40 in favor of endorsing Babbitt and 30 opposed. The action came only a day after delegates narrowly voted against endorsing Babbitt by a 35 to 31 vote.

Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan explained why the council acted. He said there was no contradiction in backing two candidates for the same race.

"From the European perspective, endorsing both candidates of different political parties who are on the same ballot may seem contradictory," said Morgan. "Those that don�t understand Navajo values could easily conclude such a contradiction exists in this situation."

"Navajo values are very complex," he added. "Navajos look at the character of individuals, not only political party membership."

But not every delegate agreed with such a stance. Hope MacDonald-Lonetree said it was "silly" to endorse rivals in the same race.

"When we vote on legislation, we aren't allowed to vote for, against or maybe, we have to take a position," MacDonald-Lonetree said, The Farmington Daily-Times reported yesterday.

For Babbitt, who is badly trailing Renzi in the polls, that didn't matter. He welcomed the council's action even though the delegates voted unanimously to back his opponent.

"I am humbled and bolstered by this great honor and the support the Navajo Nation has offered me by this endorsement," he said. He made reference to his long ties to the Navajo community in northeastern Arizona.

Renzi had equally glowing words after his endorsement, which came on Monday. "With the full backing of the Navajo Nation Council, we will work together toward a healthier, more prosperous future for the Dine," he said.

Morgan said the attention the matter received is indicative of the importance of the Native vote. "The council thus encourages each Navajo citizen to get to the polls to make a difference on election day," he said.

Navajo leaders say there are 107,000 potential Navajo voters on the reservation and 180,000 nationwide. The numbers are significant enough to tip elections in key states like Arizona and New Mexico, both considered "battleground" territory for the presidential election. New Mexico went to the Democrats in 2000 by just 366 votes.

Democrats are hoping to turn out more of the Navajo vote on November 2 and have opened three offices on the reservation -- one in Arizona and two in New Mexico. The Republican party also has an office -- located right next to the Democrats in Shiprock, New Mexico.

The Democrats are planning a big showing this Saturday in Shiprock, where they will hold a rally featuring Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who led an effort that claimed 9,000 new Native voters, and Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat who represents the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation.

In addition to supporting for Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the rally encourages Navajos to vote early. Ballots can be cast in the state until October 30

New Mexico has been targeted by both Kerry and President George W. Bush, who have each made several visits to the state in the past few months. The state is home to 22 tribes and has an Indian population of 10.5 percent, the highest in the lower 48 states. The Hispanic voting bloc is also very large.

The Navajo Nation council endorsed Kerry for president by a 61 to 8 vote on Tuesday.

Relevant Links:
Navajo Nation - http://www.navajo.org
Navajo Nation Council - http://www.navajonationcouncil.org
Paul Babbitt - http://www.babbittaz.com
Rick Renzi, campaign site - http://www.rickrenzi.com
Rick Renzi, U.S. House site - http://www.house.gov/renzi
George W. Bush - http://www.georgewbush.com
Kerry/Edwards Campaign - http://www.johnkerry.com/index.html