Can Navajo Nation Help Rescue Endangered Dem Congresswoman?

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"In the past there's been a disconnect between people casting votes in tribal elections and casting votes in statewide elections," said Eileen Luna-Firebaugh, an expert in Native American politics at the University of Arizona. "Getting Indian people to vote is the same as getting the poor and people who feel they are not part of the power structure to vote."

Nonpartisan advocacy groups including the National Congress of American Indians, which launched the initiative Native Vote 2010, have orchestrated intensive efforts to increase turnout among Native Americans for statewide and national races, driving people to polling stations and providing meals and childcare.

"It worked in 2008 but required an extraordinary level of effort," said Luna-Firebaugh.

"Election Day is like a holiday for the Navajo now," said Yazzie. "When you come to our polling places you see people hanging out, cooking, and celebrating. Unlike the outside, there is no mudslinging here."

So will they turn out this year?

"The Native American vote definitely will have an impact," said a national Democratic Party campaign strategist. "Democrats are making a targeted effort among Native Americans. It's much more field oriented than mass communication, appealing to a nation's elders."

Yazzie said the issue of state budget cuts, which could impact valuable Native American education and health care programs, are on voters' minds this fall. He said many are also concerned about state Proposition 107, which would ban affirmative action programs for state employment.

"Chris Deschene (candidate) for secretary of state is very important to many people, too," said Yazzi, who added many Navajo are energized about supporting him.

"He's somebody who Indian country loves. He's native but part of the culture. His military service is a big deal and he's a lawyer," said Luna-Firebaugh, "but in terms of turnout, I haven't seen it catch fire yet."

Candidates Seek Native American Vote

On Nov. 2, the Native American vote could also play a key role in South Dakota, where Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is locked in a tight race with Republican state Rep. Kristi Noem. Native Americans make up at least 13 percent of eligible voters in the district.

Native American groups have also taken a prominent role in Alaska, where the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state's largest native organization, endorsed Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in bid for U.S. Senate, while her Democratic opponent Scott McAdams has not been endorsed by any native groups. Joe Miller has been endorsed by the Alaska Native Veterans Association.

"Within those states, because there are key positions in the senate and house and relationships with the federal government at play, you see some jockeying around, moving Native American votes certain ways and attempts to enfranchise certain populations," said Wallace.

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