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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Barack Obama took his family on a tour of Carlsbad Caverns in the last visit by a U.S. president to New Mexico in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System.
That was three years ago. He also visited oil country, held a town hall meeting in Albuquerque and paid a visit to a neighborhood in the South Valley during his presidency.
Presidential visits aren’t that rare in New Mexico. George W. Bush visited the Land of Enchantment several times, including visiting the state at least four times in 2004 when New Mexico was a battleground in his reelection bid. Ronald Reagan made a few stops in the state, including campaign swings for Republican candidates.
John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were among the presidents who promoted scientific research during their visits to New Mexico.
Here are highlights of some of the visits:
• Andy and Etta Cavalier hosted Obama and about two dozen neighbors at their South Valley residence during the president’s visit to Albuquerque on Sept. 28, 2010.
It was one of a series of “backyard chats” the White House scheduled throughout the summer and into the fall in the midst of a critical midterm election year.
Obama spoke about the importance of education in ensuring America’s industrial and economic future, then took questions from the group on issues ranging from immigration reform and veterans issues to why he is a Christian.
One woman even offered chiles to the president.
But Obama got a quick reminder from his audience of about 40 in Albuquerque that education was not at the top of the agenda for some recession-weary voters.
“If we don’t have homes to go to, what good is education?” one man asked.
• President George W. Bush hopscotched across New Mexico on Aug. 26, 2004, echoing economic and national security themes of his reelection campaign and recycling a Western wisecrack or two.
At campaign stops in a basketball arena in Las Cruces, a baseball field in Farmington and the Convention Center in Albuquerque, the president told tens of thousands of supporters he was happy to be in the West – “where the boots outnumber the suits” and “the cowboy hats outnumber the ties.”
It was his fourth visit to New Mexico that year in a determined contest with Democrat John Kerry for the state’s five electoral votes. (Bush won the state.)
In Albuquerque, he recalled memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to draw attention to his leadership as a war president.
• Clinton visited New Mexico on Feb. 2, 1998, to trumpet the 21st Century Fund, which totaled $170 billion for civilian research over the next five years.
The president toured Los Alamos National Laboratory and saw a demonstration of a supercomputer involved in imagery testing done in place of actually detonating test nuclear weapons. The president announced that $4.5 billion had been earmarked in the budget for the technology, which officials said enabled the U.S. to lead the world in supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
It was the president’s second visit to Los Alamos in five years. Clinton also addressed Albuquerque residents, restating a theme he highlighted in his State of the Union address on the importance of investment in science and technology.
• President George H.W. Bush visited Sandia National Laboratories several times during his presidency. That included a stop at the labs during his bid for reelection on Sept. 15, 1992. During his visit, he announced major additional funding for nuclear non-proliferation programs. He toured the robotics laboratory at Sandia and attended a Victory ’92 supporters meeting at Cutter Aviation.
• President Ronald Reagan made a campaign stop at the airport in Roswell for then-U.S. Sen. Harrison Schmitt on Oct. 29, 1982.
“He’s in trouble but may pull it out,” the president wrote in his diary. “It was an airport rally – big crowd and lots of military. What a thrill it is to see them and the esprit de corps they have.”
The former Apollo astronaut, however, was unable to win one for the Gipper. Schmitt was defeated by Democrat Jeff Bingaman in the general election a few days later.
• President John F. Kennedy visited Santa Fe and Los Alamos on Dec. 7, 1962. He highlighted the scientific research in the state as Clinton would do 36 years later.
“We have come down to Santa Fe and then to go to Los Alamos to see some of the things which the people of this state, the scientists, the engineers and the workers, are making to keep this country strong and in outer space,” the president said in his remarks. Kennedy also talked about his friendship with then-New Mexico Sen. Clinton Anderson. He also visited Sandia National Laboratories that same year.