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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

John McCain campaigns in Colorado today. It's his second visit to the state in less than a week. Colorado is expected to be a key battleground in November, along with its neighbors, Nevada and New Mexico. Barack Obama's campaign plans to spend $20 million to mobilize Latino voters nationwide, and much of that effort will be focused in the Rocky Mountain West. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Florida Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart says John McCain doesn't have to introduce himself to the Hispanic community because he's been working for more than two decades for the values, principles and issues that Latinos care about.

That may be so, but a new Quinnipiac University poll shows McCain trailing Barack Obama with Latino voters here in Colorado by nearly a two-to-one margin. McCain tried to close that gap on his last visit here just five days ago. He chose what he hoped would be a friendly forum, addressing a largely Latino veterans' group.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): As president, I will ensure that those who serve today and those who have served in the past have access to the highest quality health, mental health and rehabilitative care in the world.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: McCain also used his speech to the American GI Forum in Denver to criticize Obama for opposing last year's troop surge in Iraq. McCain said his own decision to support the surge in the face of public opposition amounted to a real-time test for would-be commanders in chief.

Sen. McCAIN: Senator Obama told the American what he thought he wanted to hear. I told you the truth. From the early days of this war, I feared the administration was pursuing a mistaken strategy, and I said so. I pushed for the new strategy that has now succeeded before most people even admitted there was a problem.

HORSLEY: McCain got a generally friendly reception, especially when he paid tribute to a Latino Medal of Honor winner from the Vietnam War, Roy Benavidez. But afterwards, some of the veterans in the audience, like Frank Alvarez(ph), said they wanted to hear more from McCain.

Mr. FRANK ALVAREZ (Former Air Force Service member, Colorado Voter): He's mistaken if he thinks the only issue is the war. That issue is very important, but the economic issue is really the paramount issue.

HORSLEY: Alvarez also pointed out that on more than one occasion, McCain has voted against increased federal funding for veterans' care. Alvarez says it's one thing to talk about helping veterans and another to back up that talk with federal spending. Alvarez, who served in the Air Force, says he's not sure McCain understands just how important full funding for veteran services can be.

Mr. ALVAREZ: The viewpoint's different. Now remember, McCain's father was an admiral. My father was a steelworker. His wife's worth $100 million. My wife works for the state. We may have two different viewpoints on what the needs are.

HORSLEY: Others in the audience were more supportive of McCain. Albert Gonzales commands the Colorado chapter of the GI Forum. He likes the senator's proposal for stepped-up oil production.

Mr. ALBERT GONZALES (Commander, Colorado Chapter, GI Forum): I'm all for windmill. I'm also supportive of nuclear power plants. But windmill and nuclear power plants do not put gas into a car. And right now, the automobiles of America and of the world are run on fossil fuel.

HORSLEY: Pollsters have found widespread support for McCain's proposal to expand offshore oil drilling, even if many economists are skeptical it would provide quick relief from high gas prices. McCain has recently taken a small lead in a poll in Colorado, where voters now say a candidate's energy policy is more important to their decision than the candidate's views on the War in Iraq. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Denver.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: This is NPR News.

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