ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The economy was top of mind to New Mexico voters Tuesday as they lined up, for hours in some cases, to decide which presidential candidate will get the state's five electoral votes and who will represent them in Congress.
President Barack Obama was leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney in early returns from New Mexico voters.
More than half said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, followed by health care and the national debt, according to preliminary results of exit polls conducted in New Mexico for The Associated Press and television networks.
"Obama said he would have change, and I haven't seen any change except the debt — going up," said Jeanna Miller, 38, who was among a steady stream of voters at the Raymond G. Sanchez Community Center in Albuquerque's North Valley on Tuesday afternoon.
Tony Urioste, 54, said he voted for Obama a second time because he thinks he can fix the economy with a second term.
"He got slammed," Urioste said. "He took over a mess."
Urioste said he is a Democrat who has voted for Republicans, but that he couldn't support Romney "because people that make that kind of money shouldn't talk about people like me who are on disability." Urioste said he doesn't work since he had a heart attack.
Lines were reported at various polling places around the state, with some voters waiting as long as three hours in Rio Rancho. The Sandoval County clerk said it wouldn't be able to give tallies from Election Day ballots until after midnight because of the long lines. But for the most part, voting was going smoothly.
In addition to the president, New Mexico voters were selecting a new U.S. senator and casting ballots in a number of races that would determine the balance of Congress and the state Legislature.
According to the preliminary exit poll results, 20 percent of New Mexico voters cited health care as the most pressing issue facing the country, while 16 percent said it was the federal deficit.
The state's voters were about evenly divided on whether they believe the U.S. economy is getting better, getting worse or staying about the same.
The survey of 1,924 New Mexico voters was conducted by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 25 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 930 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4. Results for the full sample were subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
The big question was whether to give Obama one more turn or change course.
"My opinion is it takes more than four years to come back from where we were," said Joseph Alderete, a 32-year-old firefighter who said he was voting for the first time in many years.
New Mexico has gone back and forth for the past three presidential cycles and had been considered a battleground early on. But with polls this summer and autumn consistently showing Obama with a solid lead over Romney, the Republican National Committee in September pulled key staffers and sent them to more competitive states.
That changed in the final days as Romney's super PAC poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars into a last-minute television ad buy, and political observers were closely watching for clues into the latest partisan leaning of the state and its large Hispanic population.
New Mexico was considered solidly Democrat during the Clinton years and supported Al Gore by just 366 votes over George W. Bush in 2000. But the state went Republican for Bush in 2004, then followed the Democratic tide that elected Obama in 2008.
Because New Mexico two years later elected Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, pundits going into this year's presidential elections expected a tight race.
While Obama had a strong grassroots operation in New Mexico for almost a year leading up to the election, the president himself came to the state just once, stopping for a quick speech at an oil rig on his way from Nevada to Oklahoma. Romney visited the state once as well, announcing his energy policy on a stop in Hobbs, the heart of New Mexico oil country.
For the Senate, former Republican Rep. Heather Wilson and her successor, Democrat Martin Heinrich, were vying to replace retiring Democrat Jeff Bingaman in a race that could impact control of the Senate.
Albuquerque voters also were selecting a replacement for Heinrich in Congress. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, was running against former Republican state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones.
Follow Jeri Clausing at http://twitter.com/jericlausing . Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.