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Obama, McCain Tussle over Western States

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Obama, McCain Tussle over Western States

Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail

Obama, McCain Tussle over Western States

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour with politics. John McCain and Barack Obama spent part of this week crossing each other's jet trails around the Southwest. Obama has yet to wrap up the Democratic nomination, but a visit to the Southwest was all about the general election. In 2004, President Bush narrowly won Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Since then, voters in those states have shown a strong interest in Democrats.

As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, Obama is pursuing a western strategy for the fall.

JEFF BRADY: There were only 19 electoral votes in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, but in 2004 that would have been just enough to tip the election in John Kerry's favor. So this week, Barack Obama could be found doing what Western politicians do to get elected: talking about bilingual education, lamenting the housing crisis, and meeting with Native American leaders.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I like my new name, Barack Black Eagle. I mean, that's a good a name.

BRADY: There was reason to believe a Democrat could do well in the Southwest, take Colorado as an example. Just five years ago, it looked like a solidly Republican state. Since then, Democrats has snatched from the GOP the governor seat, both houses of the state legislature and three seats in Congress. So even though John McCain calls the Southwest home, he was out defending his turf. On Tuesday, he chose Denver to deliver a speech on nuclear weapons and to push for a repository to store spent nuclear fuel.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Arizona, Republican; Presidential Candidate): It's even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

BRADY: Opposing Yucca is almost a requirement to get elected in Nevada. McCain spoke to a receptive crowd, including Mary Jane Nokes(ph).

Ms. MARY JANE NOKES: I live in Castle Rock, and I'm not a Republican.

BRADY: Nokes doesn't belong to any party, and she's one of those swing voters that candidates are trying to appeal to. And she thinks McCain could do well in the Southwest.

Ms. NOKES: He got, you know, a great deal more experience than Obama has. And I think if people are looking for that, they're going to look for John McCain.

BRADY: But Obama has done well in the region, too, attracting large crowds and important superdelegate endorsements. Roy Romer was a Democratic governor of Colorado for two terms in the late 80s and 90s. The state was strongly Republican at that time, but he succeeded by being what's some in the west call an independent cuss.

Mr. ROY ROMER (Former Democratic Governor, Colorado): (Unintelligible) is very important to the West.

BRADY: Romer sees those qualities in Obama, especially after the recent debate over a gas tax holiday supported by Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Mr. ROMER: But it took political guts to say, no, I'm not going to go there - and the other two candidates in the race did go there. Now that's a pragmatic, tough, cool decision, and I think the West responds to that kind of political decision making.

BRADY: Romer says Obama's speaking style also appeals to Westerners. Vivian Stovault(ph) agrees. She attended Obama's speech at a high school outside Denver on Wednesday. Stovault says she's been a Democratic activist for years.

Ms. VIVIAN STOVAULT: It got to the point where speeches would go in one ear and out the other. I didn't hear them anymore, and that's just fine.

BRADY: When Democrats decided to hold their national convention in Denver, the importance of the Southwest became clear. And that goes beyond this election according Tom Schaller. He's a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and says the Southwest is growing fast.

Professor TOM SCHALLER (Political Science, University of Maryland, Baltimore County): By 2030, that's going to be a region that has 34, 35 electoral votes. That's now Texas, right? So in the long-term, it's a good investment.

BRADY: One of the key questions is how Latinos in the Southwest will vote. There are overwhelmingly Democratic. And in the primaries, Hillary Clinton has been their candidate. A Gallup Poll taken in recent weeks shows Obama now a narrow favorite among Latino Democrats. But polls also show that John McCain with his moderate views on immigration has more appeal with Latinos than any other candidate his party could have chosen.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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