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Enthusiastic Clinton Packs 'Em in at Gym

By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
    Hillary Clinton made a high-energy pitch for caucus votes in New Mexico on Saturday night, laying out her vision of big changes in America to an amped-up crowd of 3,000-plus packed into the gym at Albuquerque's Highland High School.
    "Hello, New Mexico!" Clinton told the crowd to deafening applause after hitting the stage just after 9:15 p.m., more than an hour after the announced start time of her rally.
    Clinton, whose New Mexico stop came three days before the state's Super Tuesday Democratic presidential caucus, said a minor mechanical glitch on her campaign jet set her schedule back and added, "I'm glad you came— and I'm glad you stayed."
    In a brand-new stump speech she had unveiled earlier in the day, the U.S. senator from New York returned over and over to the theme of the America she envisions to plug her various plans— including battling global warming, ending the Iraq war, enacting middle-class tax cuts and overhauling the country's immigration system.
    "I see an America where, once again, we are all making progress together," Clinton said. "I see an America where, once again, people don't feel the deck is stacked against them."
    In her brief speech, which wrapped up by 10 p.m., she drew perhaps her biggest cheer of the night with a jab at the current Republican administration.
    Referring to her husband, former two-term President Bill Clinton, she said, "It took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush. (And) I cannot wait to get to work."
    Clinton and fellow Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama inked New Mexico into their bustling travel itineraries as the clock ticks down to Tuesday, when New Mexico and 21 other states hold Democratic presidential nominating contests.
    Super Tuesday could go a long way to determining who will win the right to represent the party in this fall's general election.
    Clinton's crowd didn't appear to match the overflow crowds that packed Albuquerque and Santa Fe venues on Friday to hear Obama speak; an estimated total of 8,100-plus attended those events at the Albuquerque Convention Center and Santa Fe Community College.
    Obama also reportedly drew at least one massive, overflow crowd in Nevada during his quest for a Jan. 19 caucus victory there and managed only a split decision. Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, but rules there gave Obama one more delegate than Clinton due to his stronger performance in rural areas.
    The key will be who can rally the most voters to caucus locations on Tuesday. And Clinton asked the enthusiastic group to make sure to show up to vote.
    "I'm asking you to support me on Tuesday— to stand up for me on Feb. 5," she said.
    With Clinton and Obama waging a heated battle for the endorsements of top New Mexico politicos, the man seen as the most important endorser in the state— Gov. Bill Richardson— has yet to officially plug either candidate.
    However, Richardson is planning to catch the Super Bowl with Bill Clinton today in Red River. And Hillary Clinton made sure to remind the crowd of that long before she started chatting about policy.
    Clinton's Albuquerque rally came after two other rallies earlier Saturday in California and Arizona.
    Before the star of the show arrived, the Clinton crowd on Saturday tapped their toes to a string of catchy rock and country tunes blaring from the public-address system. The crowd also waved a rippling sea of red, white and blue Hillary campaign posters.
    Several backers said Clinton's rally was well worth the wait to get in.
    "I've always been a big Hillary fan. One, because she's a woman— and I'm a Democrat," said Carolyn Herrera of Albuquerque, who added she waited three hours to get into the event. "She's a very intelligent woman."
    Francis Page, another crowd member, said he's still torn between Clinton and Obama.
    "I'm still deciding," Page said. "But she made a very convincing argument tonight."
    Meanwhile, the all-out push toward Super Tuesday continues by both camps today and Monday.
    Obama's New Mexico spokesman, Trevor FitzGibbon, said Michelle Obama, the candidate's wife, is slated to appear in Las Cruces on Monday night for what FitzGibbon called a "major rally."
    He said the time and location for the southern New Mexico event had not been finalized as of early Saturday evening.
    FitzGibbon added that hundreds of Obama volunteers were knocking on doors in 17 New Mexico cities over the weekend.
    "The ballpark estimate for (Saturday) was 15,000 to 20,000 doors," FitzGibbon said. "That's what the estimate is for (Sunday), too."
    Clinton's New Mexico campaign also is making a last-minute canvassing and phone push, with thousands of its own calls and home visits.
    U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros appeared with Clinton at Saturday's rally— "This is the lady that can make it happen!" he boomed to the crowd— and was to go door-to-door in Las Cruces today.
    The Clinton campaign also was gearing up for a Monday night "national town hall," during which Clinton would address rallies around the country, including one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, via satellite.
    Caucus Basics
    New Mexico Democrats will vote statewide on Tuesday for a presidential nominee.
    Here are key details of the presidential preference caucus:
    WHO: Only voters who were registered as Democrats in New Mexico as of Jan. 4, 2008, are eligible to vote on Tuesday.
    WHAT: The voting is called a caucus for technical reasons, but there is no caucusing: Voters go to a polling place— called a caucus site— cast a ballot and leave. The caucus is run by the Democratic Party. Caucus sites are not necessarily the same as your regular polling places; see the Web address below for locations. Candidates who win at least 15 percent of the vote will be eligible for a share of New Mexico's 26 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver.
    WHEN: The caucus is on Tuesday. Polling places statewide will be open from noon until 7 p.m.
    WHERE: For lists of caucus sites around the state go to the Democratic Party Web site at www.nmdemocrats.org and click on "Feb. 5 Caucus Voting Sites."
    WHY: A new law in 2003 allowed New Mexico political parties to advance the date of their presidential preference voting and elevate their voice in the national primary election season. The first Democratic presidential caucus in New Mexico was held Feb. 3, 2004. Republicans have kept their presidential primary voting on the regular state primary election date. Republicans will vote on their presidential preferences in this year's June 3 primary election. Both Democrats and Republicans will vote on the rest of their primary election ballots— from U.S. Senate through local offices— on June 3.