Sen. John Kerry's four-corner plan for the Southwest has been reduced to a tri-state strategy, with New Mexico his best hope for success.

The Democratic presidential candidate, looking to expand the political map, had hoped to compete against President Bush in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. "If you could somehow slide Utah out of the way and slip Colorado in its place, you would call this our four-corner strategy," Kerry adviser Tad Devine (search) said in May.

Five months later, the Democratic campaign has all but ceded, won by Democrat Al Gore (search) by just 366 votes in 2000. That is closer than the contested Florida race. It could just as tight this year.

Bush and Kerry are saturating the state with television advertisements and visiting frequently as well, making New Mexico a Top 10 target for both campaigns. Kerry can't afford to lose Gore states, even one with just five electoral votes out the 270 needed to win the presidency.

A Gallup poll Oct. 3-6 showed the race essentially tied in New Mexico, with Bush backed by 50 percent of likely voters and Kerry getting 47 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

New Mexico is part of a trend in the West and Southwest, where an influx of Hispanics and transplanted white voters is changing voting patterns. Four in 10 New Mexican voters are Hispanic, including the state's governor, Bill Richardson.

Kerry hopes he can improve the turnout of Hispanic voters, a solid majority of whom vote Democratic. Bush hopes to reduce Kerry's advantages with Hispanics while courting conservative voters in the booming Albuquerque suburbs and rural New Mexico.

BY THE NUMBERS:

5 — Electoral votes.

More than 1 million — Registered voters, the most in state history.

63 — Percentage who voted in the 2000 election

15 — People per square mile.

1.1 million — Acres of media mogul Ted Turner's New Mexico ranches.

QUOTABLE:

— "I know many people who are uninsured and can't afford health care — family and friends. It can only be better than what Bush has done." — David Chavez of Santa Teresa, N.M., speaking about Kerry's health plan.

— "I'm so proud of our president. I'm proud to be an American. I appreciate the freedom that we have. It's the greatest country in the world." — Harold Forrester of Albuquerque, who attended a Bush rally there.

— "Everyone is trying to get you to register to vote. I said to myself, 'This is great.' I'm not used to it — people actually care about how I'm going to vote." — Amy Giedraitis, who recently moved to Albuquerque from Chicago, commenting on the push by Democrats and Republicans to woo New Mexico voters.

NOTABLE:

There were 1,029,845 registered voters as of late September. That's up 56,312 from November 2000. Unaffiliated, or independent, voters have increased by 25 percent, Republicans grew by 4 percent, Democrats by 3 percent and Greens dropped 16 percent.

WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:

After a court fight between Republicans and Democrats, the state Supreme Court ruled Sept. 28 that Ralph Nader's name will appear on the New Mexico ballot. With the state still considered a tossup, that could be key. In 2000, when Bush lost here to Al Gore by 366 votes, Nader received 21,251 votes — about 4 percent.

IN NEW MEXICO FOUR YEARS AGO:

Despite Gore's tiny margin over Bush, Republicans decided against seeking a recount. State GOP Chairman John Dendahl said at the time that a recount would be "divisive and time consuming." Republicans in 17 counties had hand-inspected absentee and early ballots, searching for irregularities. Dendahl said the review turned up possible problems but that Bush probably would not have picked up enough votes to overcome Gore's lead.