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On the road with the 2012 US election.

Of Mormons and beer

Joseph Smith casts a long shadow in Utah — and possibly on the US elections
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Hundreds of Mormons riding in 50 covered wagons and pulling handcarts wind their way along the Mormon Trail. There are two kinds of people in Salt Lake City: Mormons and those who poke fun at them, sometimes none too gently. (Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah— All roads lead to the Temple in this beautiful city nestled at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. Utah is the reddest of red states, and will undoubtedly go to Romney in November. However, while Salt Lake City is considered the Mormon capital, it is one of the few cities in Utah where Mormons are in the minority.

Arizona's acrimonious battle for Giffords' seat

Ron Barber's win was a welcome victory for Gabby Giffords-loving Arizonans. But the jury's still out on what it will mean for national politics.
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Ron Barber, who was wounded along with US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in last years deadly shooting, won Arizona's vote to succeed Giffords. (Jonathan Gibby/AFP/Getty Images)

TUCSON, Ariz. — In the end, it was not all that close. In an agonizingly tense election to fill the seat of injured Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the vote went convincingly to Giffords’ hand-picked successor, Ron Barber.

Barber, a genial, avuncular man who had been an aide to Giffords during her five years in Congress, triumphed over Republican Jesse Kelly, 52 to 46 percent.

Kelly had lost to Giffords by a razor-thin margin in 2010.

As amiable as Barber seems on the surface, his campaign was anything but gentle.


Arizona’s prickly-pear politics

Breathtaking scenery, heart-stopping political games in the American Southwest.
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Many Arizonans take pride in their no-nonsense Republican Governor Jan Brewer. Here's a photo of Brewer wagging a finger in President Barack Obama's face, turned into buttons that say "Don't mess with Arizona." (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona politics can be as thorny as the beautiful saguaro cacti that bristle on nearly every corner here.

For a smallish state — population less than 6.5 million, with 11 electoral votes — it certainly has caused more than its share of heartburn on the national stage.


Thoughts from the Grand Canyon

A naive Easterner on a visit to Arizona’s domesticated wilderness.
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Grand Canyon: This gigantic gorge cut into the earth over millions of years by the mighty Colorado River overwhelms the senses and defeats attempts to capture it in words or photos. (Jean MacKenzie/GlobalPost)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — There are no words adequate to describe the Grand Canyon.

Magnificent. Awe-inspiring. Humbling. None of these come close. This gigantic gorge cut into the earth over millions of years by the mighty Colorado River overwhelms the senses and defeats attempts to capture it in words or photos.

I stand on the Southern Rim, watching the morning light change the colors from pink to gray to yellow to tan, and wonder how to approach it. Time in the canyon is measured in billions of years, but I have exactly one hour and 45 minutes to embrace its beauty before I have to rush off to check out of my hotel.

So I set off on a hike — the Rim Trail, which skirts the edge for several miles, offering breathtaking vistas and a chance to rub shoulders with wildlife. There are places where you can get out to the very edge and gaze into the immeasurable depths of this great wonder of the world.

It might sound like an adventure, but it really isn’t. The canyon has been thoroughly tamed. The trail has benches at frequent intervals, along with rest rooms, telescopes, and explanatory plaques.

You can get an audio tour on your cell phone, or book a ranger to take you around. The paths are wheelchair accessible, and for the overambitious, a shuttle bus shadows the Rim Trail to pick up anyone defeated by the altitude or the distance. Drinking fountains dispense spring water from the canyon, and for the shoppers, there are numerous boutiques selling Native American crafts.

I could not be more protected if I were at a local Wal-Mart. “What on Earth have we done here?” I thought. But just a glance at the majestic rock face calmed my grumpiness. Sort of.


Primaries wind down, general election heats up

Wisconsin’s recall vote dominated, but 5 other states held elections yesterday. Here in New Mexico, the GOP talks immigration.
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Mother and daughter at a voting booth at City Hall in Hudson, Wisconsin on Tuesday participate in a recall election to choose whether to let Governor Scott Walker stay in office or replace him with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

SANTA FE, NM — Politics seems too crass a subject to discuss amid New Mexico’s red-clay hills and magnificent mountains. The quaint adobe houses of Santa Fe should not be adorned with campaign ads, and the excessively polite people should not have to discuss topics as heated as who should be senator or president.

New Mexico held its primary elections on Tuesday, and, other than campaign workers, few people noticed. Turnout was light across the state, barely topping 20 percent.

There were no real surprises — Mitt Romney won more than 70 percent of the Republican vote, adding at least 16 delegates to his total, which is already above the 1,144 needed for the presidential nomination.

Barack Obama, of course, won the Democratic race.

Independent voters were barred from the primary though — in New Mexico, one has to be a registered voter of one of the two major parties in order to qualify to vote.

This does not sit well with some voters.

“I do not want to give up my independent status, so I do not have a say,” said Amy Bobrick, who runs a small inn on the outskirts of Santa Fe. “I will have to wait until November.”

More from Highway 2012: Everything’s bigger in Texas

In all, five states held elections on Tuesday: New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana, South Dakota and California. Coming this late in the season, the vote was largely symbolic, and attracted little attention. Even giant California did not make much of a splash, although it added 169 delegates to Romney’s tally on Tuesday.


Everything’s bigger in Texas … including the contradictions

From famous cowgirls to liberal, gun-toting lawyers and LBJ, the 'Lone Star State' charts its own path.
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Drink glasses in the shape of cowboy boots are used at the bar at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The Big Texan, a 450-seat restaurant, is a Route 66 attraction which does a bustling business. (Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images)

LITTLEFIELD, Texas — I drive for what seems like hours through the Roscoe Wind Farm, watching endless armies of turbines briskly spinning their blades. Texas, famous for its oilmen in 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots, is actually the foremost state in the union for production of wind power, with a total capacity of more than 10,000 MW of renewable energy.

Texas is chock full of quirky, sometimes noble, contradictions: a state with one of the worst civil rights records in the country produced a president who arguably did more than anyone else to enshrine equal rights in the law. Of course, Lyndon Baines Johnson had other qualities that made him seem more typical of the great Texas tendency towards excess: just think back to his blithe, very public unveiling of his gall bladder scar

I spent an afternoon in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, dedicated to the “spirit of cowgirl” — in short, “I can do anything, if I want it badly enough and work at it.” I had not thought of Texas as a bastion of feminism, but it was there, loud and clear.

I discovered, to my shock, that Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Justice of the Supreme Court, was a cowgirl honoree, courtesy of her upbringing on a cattle ranch in Arizona. I cannot quite picture Justice O’Connor in the rhinestone chaps, turquoise leather boots, or solid gold buckles prominently featured in the multi-media museum, but she was in good company. Other honorees included Georgia O’Keeffe, the great painter of the Western desert; former First Lady of both Texas and the United States Laura Bush; Nebraska author Willa Cather, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and Patsy Cline, the famed country-western singer. Oh, and Dale Evans, of course.


Deep in the heart of Texas

Politics are a serious matter in the Lone Star State.
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The sun sets over the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Welcome to Texas, where the smiles are as broad as the accents, and where oil wells dot the skyline, their dinosaur heads bobbing delicately as they take sips of the state’s liquid gold.

The rest of the country might be in recession, but business is booming in Texas. In this bustling new suburb of Fort Worth, there are shopping centers at nearly every intersection and houses under construction. There is frenetic activity everywhere. Texas is the exception to America’s grim economic reality, and proud residents are not above patting themselves on the back for it.

Rick Perry is still the enormously popular governor; Texans were torn about his run for the White House.

“We were sort of disappointed that he did not become president,” said a young man working outside a local polling station on primary day. “But we sure are glad that he stayed with us down here in Texas.”

Perry dropped out of the race in January, just ahead of the South Carolina primary, throwing his support to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Despite early promise, Perry’s poor performance in the Republican presidential debates, combined with numerous gaffes and missteps, doomed his bid for the big time. His “brain freeze” moment, in which he could not recite the three departments of government he wanted to abolish, went viral throughout cyberspace, and sank his candidacy almost before it began.

He’s a big man in Texas, though.

“We were hoping he would get farther than he did,” said Amber, a perky young woman who works as a receptionist at a local gym. “But we really liked Newt Gingrich the best.”

Mitt Romney won a convincing victory in Tuesday’s primary in Texas, finally gaining enough delegates to drop the “presumptive” from his status as Republican nominee for president.

But in Texas, he’s more tolerated than revered.


Texas primary: The big yawn

Mitt Romney finally clinches the Republican nomination.
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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally at Somers Furniture on May 29, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mitt Romney is holding campaign event and attending a fundraiser hosted by Donald Trump in Las Vegas. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
FORT WORTH — To no one’s surprise, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney received the final jewel in the crown of his nomination quest on Tuesday — Texas awarded him 97 delegates in Tuesday’s primary.

Colorado: The color purple

Fear and loathing in the Rockies
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Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., participates in a news conference about the "Chinese question." (Shaun Tandon/Getty Images)
“Colorado is neither red nor blue, it’s one of the most purple states in the union,” continued Joan. “We have high education and low unemployment, but there are pockets of eccentric conservatives who just may decide this election.”

Pittsburgh: an acquired taste

Pittsburgh is a bastion of liberalism in a state whose interior — the large area between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — has been famously compared to Alabama.
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Duquesne University's view of the Pittsburgh skyline. (Wikimedia commons)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — “Don’t tell anyone how wonderful Pittsburgh is,” said a woman I was introduced to only as “Cousin Susie.” “It is Pennsylvania’s best-kept secret. We don’t want hordes of tourists coming in.”

Looking around the city, I don’t think Cousin Susie has to worry just yet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Pittsburgh, really.