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'Battleground' shrinks: Indian vote gains power

WASHINGTON - The major political parties will focus their efforts on
undecided votes in a dwindling number of battleground states as the Nov. 2
election nears, and Indians could be a decisive factor in at least three of
them: Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The comparatively large overall
population of Florida tends to conceal the Indian presence there, but the
Indian vote could make the difference in that crucial state too.

Iowa has a smaller Indian population than any of those states, but the
strong party networks in the caucus state are working to turn out every
one. Of many political analysts who have weighed in on the late stages of
the presidential campaign, some also consider the state of Colorado, also
with a considerable Indian population, too close to call.

In each of these states, every individual vote is expected to matter. The
overall electoral vote from any one of them could push the favored
candidate's vote total to the required 270. An electoral vote tied at 269
is a distinct possibility. In that case, the Republican-majority House of
Representatives would vote to decide the presidency.

Otherwise, the 20 states that have been called battlegrounds in this
election have dwindled to fewer than 10 as the others have gone to
President George W. Bush or his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, at
least securely enough to curtail the resources the trailing camp will
commit to them.

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Despite fluctuations in a variety of poll results in recent weeks, the
presidential race is considered a dead heat.

In South Dakota, where a large Indian turnout is expected, Democratic
incumbent Tom Daschle, the Senate minority party leader, and Republican
challenger John Thune are also deadlocked as Nov. 2 approaches. And in
Alaska, the contest between incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski and Gov.
Tony Knowles has narrowed in the past month.