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Campaign 2004: Indian country Arizona

As Navajo Nation Councilman Thomas Walker looked at the Democratic primary ballot with photos of each of the candidates posted on the walls of this rural governing center, he pondered the potential effect of the Indian vote.

"About 90 percent of our voters are registered Democrats," Walker said. "We could play a huge role in the outcomes of the primaries if people will just turn out."

Walker was referring to the Feb. 3 Democratic presidential primary in Arizona and caucus in New Mexico. The Democratic parties in both of the neighboring Southwestern states moved their votes many months ahead in an attempt to be more influential in the selection of the party nominee.

A poll by Arizona State University, released on the day of the New Hampshire primary, showed retired Gen. Wesley Clark barely ahead of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in Arizona.

But Walker said that Navajo voters have indicated a strong preference for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman visited the tribal capitol of Window Rock last year and spoke to the Navajo Nation council, where he reaffirmed the federal government's need to honor treaties signed with the country's Indian tribes.

Little attention has been paid in New Mexico to the Indian vote. Dean started pursuing endorsements from high-profile Hispanic leaders last summer but none of the major candidates have paid visits to that state's reservations and pueblos.