McCain thinks he’ll run strong in the West |

McCain thinks he’ll run strong in the West

Barry Massey
The Associated Press
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. ” Republican John McCain said Monday that Western states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada will be critical to winning the White House and as a senator from Arizona he’ll enjoy a political advantage over the Democratic nominee.

“I believe as a Western senator I understand the issues, the challenges of the future for these … states, whether it be land, water, Native American issues, preservation, environmental issues,” McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who’s leading in the delegate count for the party’s presidential nomination, “has no experience, no knowledge or background on any of these Western issues.”

Obama, at a campaign stop in Las Cruces, disagreed with McCain and said, “We can win the West.”

“I am absolutely confident that we are going to do very well in the West,” Obama said. “Partly because I think people out West are independent minded and are going to look at whether or not over the last eight years the country is better off under Republican rule and I think they are going to conclude that they are not and they want fundamental change ” something I am offering and John McCain is not.”

New Mexico ” as well as Colorado and Nevada ” are among about a dozen states in which the 2004 presidential race was decided by no more than 5 percentage points. President Bush narrowly carried New Mexico in 2004, but Democrat Al Gore won by 366 votes in 2000.

Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson agrees the West will be a battleground region in the general election campaign but contends that Obama or Hillary Clinton would run stronger in the West than McCain.

“Republican policies ” supported and advocated by John McCain ” run counter to Western values,” Richardson said in a recent statement.

“Western issues such as protecting our natural resources ” water, public lands ” are issues championed by Democrats.”

The governor noted that Democrats have made gains in elective offices in the West in recent elections, such as winning the governorships of Montana and Colorado in 2006.

Richardson also said “the West is home to a fast-growing Hispanic population which is clearly leaning Democratic in 2008.”

In New Mexico, Hispanics account for about two-fifths of the state’s voting age population.

McCain said he had strong Hispanic support in his last re-election in Arizona but acknowledged that Hispanic voters would be “challenge” in the presidential race.

He said his positions on a number of issues ” “pro-life, pro-military, pro-small business” and immigration ” “will allow me to receive the consideration of the Hispanic voter.”

“I’m not taking a single vote for granted. I’ve got my work cut out for me. There’s a strong economic headwind. There’s a brand problem of Republicans. I understand those challenges and I am sure I can meet them and I can win,” said McCain.

Immigration is a particularly difficult issue for McCain. Conservatives in the GOP view him skeptically because of his work in the Senate for reform legislation that would have provided a path to legal status for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living in the United States.

McCain now says such a plan would be considered only after fortifying the international borders.

Obama narrowly lost New Mexico’s Democratic presidential caucus to Clinton in February. She did much better among Hispanic voters ” as she did in other primary contests.

While campaigning in Las Cruces, a community near the state’s border with Mexico, Obama said, “We are going to have to work hard to get known by all the voters in this region,” including Hispanics.

But Obama said his “message of changing Washington, delivering on universal health care, ending the war in Iraq” and establishing a national energy policy will appeal to Hispanics as well as other voters.

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