SANDIA PARK — Nestled on the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains, this small community is little more than a collection of houses scattered among piñon and ponderosa pines off N.M. 14 along the Turquoise Trail.
You wouldn’t even know you were driving through it save for a self-storage business that bears its name. Many people here can’t tell you where it begins or where it ends.
But in this rough-and-tumble presidential election, Sandia Park is notable.
Its residents have given more money per capita to Donald Trump than any other New Mexico community.
They also have given more money to Hillary Clinton.
And Gary Johnson, too.
In examining New Mexico’s political divides in the president’s race, The New Mexican sought to do a story comparing and contrasting the community most supportive of Trump with the one most in favor of Clinton, based on campaign contributions.
It was to be a tale of two cities, of sorts. But based on an analysis of communities that gave 10 contributions or more, those two communities turned out to be one and the same.
New Mexico is not considered a swing state in this election. Nate Silver’s influential FiveThirtyEight website puts Clinton’s chances of winning here at 93.7 percent. Overall, Clinton’s fundraising lead in the state is $4.5 million to Trump’s $490,000, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.
But while people like to think of presidential politics as a story of regional divides — the Midwestern and mostly white plains against the urban, elitist coasts — isolated pockets like Sandia Park illustrate the deep divisions that coexist door to door, strongly felt but often unnoticed.
Sandia Park, population 237 in the latest U.S. Census Bureau count (though residents believe it is bigger) isn’t a town that wears its politics on its sleeve. Trump and Clinton posters are rare. You see more Johnson signs — but on street corners, not in people’s yards.
Yet residents here gave a total of $7,794 to Trump in 30 contributions, an average of $32.89 per resident. By comparison, the conservative southeastern oil-patch town of Hobbs, population 38,400, gave just $6,680, or 17 cents per resident.
Donations to Clinton were also outsized at $10,850 in 21 contributions — an average of $45.78 per resident and two and half times more than the community that was the second biggest source of Clinton donations — Lamy, outside of Santa Fe, which gave about $18.29 per resident.
Friday night at the Lazy Lizard Grill, a brewery and eatery in the middle of town that serves up dishes named after reptiles and amphibians, politics wasn’t on top of patrons’ minds. Instead, they were drinking, dancing, laughing and taking selfies.
But the mere mention of Clinton and Trump sparked strong — and often vulgar — opinions of the two candidates.
John Wayne Haynes, a member of the Cactus Slim and the Goatheads band, which was playing at the bar, said he’s supporting Trump because he believes Trump is a leader who’s going to shake up Washington.
“Listen, I know he’s goofy. I know he says stupid things. Aside from that, we need a leader. We haven’t had leadership in a long time,” said Haynes, who lives in Lamy.
His opinion of Clinton? Not printable in a family newspaper.
As Haynes talked about why Trump was a better candidate, a woman who declined to give her name jumped into the conversation.
“I’m sorry,” she said, slightly slurring her words. “I don’t respect a man who sexually assaults women on a whim.”
The split in opinions at the Lazy Lizard extends to voters throughout the town.
Take, for example, Prescilla Lucero, a self-described feminist and longtime Democrat who is enthusiastically supporting Clinton over Trump.
“I am just totally appalled with Trump,” said Lucero, 82, while sitting at the kitchen table of her swanky two-story home.
“You don’t have to write this down,” Lucero added, “but I think he’s somebody and his followers are people who are sort of intellectually constipated and have verbal diarrhea.”
On the other side of Sandia Park, Doug Crawforth, a longtime Republican, said there’s no way he could vote for Clinton.
“I was against the Clintons the first time that they were president,” he said, flashing a smile under his thick mustache.
Crawforth, 56, said he was “astounded” Trump became the Republican nominee but will vote for him nonetheless.
“That’s the only way you can vote against Hillary. The others are a waste of time,” Crawforth said as he puffed on an electronic cigarette outside his modest home, a century-old hunting cabin at the mouth of the Cibola National Forest.
While Sandia Park also led the state in per-capita contributions for Johnson at $6.43 per resident, the Libertarian candidate has received only six contributions from residents here. Only three cities had more than 10 contributions for Johnson: Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Tijeras. Sandia Park gave no money to Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.
“The average income is maybe a little higher than the rest of the East Mountains per capita, so it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that you would have giving per capita high to [Clinton and Trump], particularly when I think there are very strong feelings on both sides of this election,” said Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who represents the area.
Nearly two-thirds of the population here is female, and nearly half of the residents are 45 or older.
Among residents 25 years or older, about 18 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
A majority of the population identify as Hispanic, while nearly 45 percent identify as white.
The housing stock ranges from dilapidated cabins on the side of the road to opulent homes on large lots with floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views. A five-bedroom home near the Paa-Ko Ridge development, for example, is listed for $699,000.
“It’s a tremendous mix, a mishmash of people,” Crawforth said.
“It isn’t really even a town,” said Carla Ward, who has lived in Sandia Park since 1973. “It’s just a point on the map where we have a post office.”
Ward, who owns the Tinkertown Museum, a roadside attraction along the highway to Sandia Crest that her late husband, Ross Ward, opened in 1983, said Sandia Park started to grow around the 1950s as more people moved to Albuquerque.
“If they bought a lot or a house in Albuquerque, they got a lot in Sandia Park, and people would come up here and spend the summers. They had little summer cabins all in here,” she said, adding that others moved to the area for the dry air “when tuberculosis was a big thing.”
Ward said there are also old Hispanic families who have lived in the area “forever.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, she said, Sandia Park drew people looking “to get out of town and be artists and live off the land.”
Over the past two decades, Sandia Park has changed dramatically, Ward said.
“In the last 20 years, New Mexico has become more of a magnet for people to retire to, and more wealthy people have come to retire here, so they’ve built more, bigger homes around here than were originally here,” she said.
Ward said Sandia Park has benefited from more affluent people moving into the area.
“Years ago, the Burger Boy [in neighboring Cedar Crest] was about the only place you could eat here,” she said. “We had one little tiny grocery store … and now we’ve got a big grocery store that moved down to Cedar Crest. We’ve got gas stations. We didn’t even used to have a gas station. Well, there was a gas station, but it was a small gas station.”
The community is in Bernalillo County but just miles from the border of Sandoval and Santa Fe counties. The area is difficult to define, both geographically and politically.
“People move out there because they want to get away from city life, if you will,” said Tito Madrid, who works in Commissioner Johnson’s office. “It’s a conglomerate of everything. People retired from Sandia [National Laboratories] or going to Sandia to work. Teachers. Retirees. Construction workers. So, you’ve got a little bit of everything.”
The community is as mixed as residents’ political views.
A retired management consultant who contributed $250 to Trump’s campaign, but requested that his name not be used for privacy’s sake, said, “There’s just some things that are real personal, and this is one of those things.” He said he’s not a die-hard Trump supporter.
“It’s less that I’m supporting Trump and more that I can’t support Hillary Clinton,” he said.
The Trump supporter said he doesn’t believe the economy, his biggest concern, will improve with Clinton continuing the policies of President Barack Obama. But he said he couldn’t forgive the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead when Clinton was secretary of state.
“I served in Vietnam,” he said. “I was trained from day one that you never left your people behind. What we did in Benghazi was so contrary to anything that we’ve ever done before in this country. I just couldn’t abide by that.”
Byron Matthews, 71, a retired sociology professor, said he’s going to vote for Trump, too.
“There’s essentially nothing about Hillary I can find attractive,” said Matthews, who has lived in Sandia Park for 18 years.
Matthews said he supports Trump because he can bring much needed change to Washington.
“The idea of a complete outsider, a nonpolitical outsider, coming in and just blowing it up — I sound like an anarchist here — but to me, that has a great attraction,” he said.
Matthews said he was bothered by Trump’s comments about women, but he said other allegations against Trump, including that he’s racist and anti-Muslim, were blown out of proportion by the news media and reflect today’s nasty politics.
“I think that what this election has brought out, if there’s one thing you see bubbling up out of the whole scene, is that there’s a pretty widespread animosity to politicians generally,” he said.
“I’m not quite sure what’s happened politically, but the kind of people that are getting thrown up as presidential candidates, or candidates to be candidates when there were a dozen of them on the Republican side, you look at that and say, ‘Gee, is this really the best we can do?’ Apparently it is, but I think that’s too bad,” Matthews added.
Ward, who operates the Tinkertown Museum, said she’s no fan of Clinton but that a Trump presidency is frightening.
“I voted for her, but I’m not 100 percent in favor of her,” she said. “Trump, I’m afraid, is just a loose cannon. He makes me nervous.”
Ward described Clinton as the safer choice.
“Change happens, but change doesn’t happen like Trump wants it to happen, where he blows everything up,” she said.
Crawforth, who plans to switch his party affiliation from Republican to independent, said the presidential race has been a whirlwind.
“Until this morning, I would’ve [described it as a] circus, but I hear that Ringling Brothers put out a statement yesterday to stop calling it a circus,” he said, laughing. “It’s insulting, so I guess I’ll use one of Trump’s words. It’s a disaster.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at firstname.lastname@example.org or 986-3089. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.