Democrats turn to states with key Indian votes

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts sailed to victory in New Hampshire's Democratic primary on Tuesday, easily beating former front runner Howard Dean by 13 points. Retired Army general Wesley Clark, an Indian Country favorite, narrowly edged out Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina for third place.

News organizations projected the race shortly after all polls closed at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. With 39 percent of the vote, Kerry (http://www.johnkerry.com) credited veterans with his second-straight campaign win.

"This victory belongs also in a special way to the veterans who marched with us," Kerry, who fought in Vietnam, told supporters. "And they helped to lift us up from the lowest points to the point where we are today."

Dean, former governor of Vermont, trailed behind behind with 26 percent of the vote. A week after he came in third in the Iowa caucuses, he reiterated the "take the country back" slogan of his campaign.

"The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands, not mine," said Dean (http://www.deanforamerica.com). "Abraham Lincoln said that a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth."

Meanwhile, the candidate who has earned endorsements from tribal leaders and one Indian-owned newspaper responded to his third-place finish with a reminder that the race still has "a couple of more rounds to go." "Our party has to offer a vision for America, a vision that will keep us strong abroad and safe at home," Clark (http://www.clark04.com) said. "We must beat George W. Bush."

Edwards (http://www.johnedwards2004.com), who came in an impressive second in last week's caucuses, said he would capitalize on "energy and momentum" to take his campaign to the upcoming February 3 primaries. "We're going to take this message, this positive uplifting vision of hope that's captivated Iowa, has captivated New Hampshire, and will captivate the rest of the country," he said in a speech.

Rounding out the pack was Sen. Joe Lieberman (http://www.joe2004.com) of Connecticut, who received 9 percent of the vote. Despite the low showing, he said "the people of New Hampshire put me in the ring, and that's where we're going to stay."

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio (http://www.kucinich.us) came in sixth while activist Al Sharpton (http://www.sharpton2004.org) was seventh.

The candidates now put their focus on Tuesday's primaries in the states of Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Not only are a larger number of delegates up for grabs, there are also a significant number of American Indian and Alaska Native voters in four of the states.

In Arizona, home to 22 federally recognized tribes, Native Americans make up 5.7 percent of the state. New Mexico has 22 tribes as well, and an Indian population of 10.5 percent. North Dakota has an Indian population of 5.5 percent spread among six reservations. Finally, Oklahoma has 39 tribes and 11.4 percent of the state.

In general elections, Indian voters have the power to tip elections. Former vice president Al Gore won New Mexico in 2000 by just a few hundred votes. And in 2002, Sen. Tim Johnson was re-elected with the help of Indians in South Dakota.

The role Native Americans will play in the upcoming primaries is unknown. But that hasn't stopped some candidates from reaching out to Indian voters in the key states.

As one example, Lieberman is currently running radio ads in Navajo country, including one spoken in Navajo by Jack Jackson Sr., who recently retired from the Arizona Senate. Last summer, he met with the Navajo Nation council, which represents the largest tribe in the country. The Navajo reservation is spread throughout the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Several candidates spoke to the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which was held in New Mexico last November. Kuchinich, Dean and Clark appeared in person while Lieberman sent a videotaped message. Kerry appeared live via satellite and was the only candidate who answered questions from the audience.

Nationwide, NCAI President Tex Hall said there are about 1 million Native Americans registered to vote. This year, he said they will turn out in "record numbers" at the polls.

"We will exercise this right because to do so is critical to our success in reclaiming other important rights --the right to adequate health care and quality education, the right to fully govern our lands, the right to protect our citizenry, the right to see our nation's commitments to tribes fulfilled," he said last Tuesday during the 2nd annual State of Indian Nations address.

New Hampshire Votes:
Associated New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary (Associated Press)

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