Obama Looks to the Southwest
By Karl Vick
THORNTON, Colo. -- The next and final Democratic primaries are in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota.
Barack Obama spent the past three days in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.
Itinerary might not be destiny, but here was the schedule of a candidate keen to be seen taking the long view -- beyond the nomination battle his campaign claims to be essentially decided and toward a general election campaign to be fought in the booming states of an intermountain West no longer ceded wholesale to the Republican party.
"We are going to fight as hard as we can in these states," Obama said in Las Cruces, N.M., where he chose to observe Memorial Day. "We are going to send the message now that we are gong to after them and I expect to win them."
With November in mind, each day carried a theme: veterans affairs in Las Cruces, housing foreclosures in Las Vegas and here, in an upscale Denver suburb where all 44 high school seniors at Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts have been accepted to college next year, what could it be but education?
"In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow," Obama said in the jam-packed auditorium of a small school that appears to have found a winning formula in using the arts to activate interest in topics usually confined to textbooks. "Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are. By 12th grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world. ... It is worth crying about."
But as the candidate noted during the question and answer session that followed his policy speech, "You can go into any state and find 10 schools that are doing a great job educating their kids."
By highlighting one in Colorado, Obama was making the same calculation that Democratic leaders made in selecting Denver for the party's 2008 convention -- encouraging through dutiful attention the continued purpling of a once reliably red state that in recent years has grown steadily more hospitable to Democrats, at least at the state level.
"I'll see you back in August!" the Illinois Democrat called from the stage, after a night sheltering in the shadow of the brushed steel splendor of the Colorado Convention Center (opposite a vacant lot where a semi-permanent tent was going up, available for functions).
With its nine electoral votes, Colorado ranks behind only John McCain's home state of Arizona as the region's prize. New Mexico brings only five to the electoral college, but its tight-as-tick margins on presidential election nights challenges the metaphorical capacities even of Dan Rather. McCain spent Memorial Day in the Land of Enchantment, too.
The question is what a Democrat was doing in Nevada. Republicans have carried the state in eight of the past 10 cycles, and Bill Clinton's triumph came with a strong assist from the independent candidacy of Ross Perot.
"On every map Nevada shows up as a red state, but that could be changing," said Jon Ralston, a leading political journalist and blogger. Statewide polls show McCain ahead of both Obama and Hillary Clinton, but the state has three times as many people as it did in 1980, many of them service industry workers whose votes cancel out suburban Republicans and the state's deeply conservative rural reaches.
Ralston is impressed by Democrats' impressive voter registration efforts, and the Obama campaign's reason for stopping in Las Vegas: to highlight what he would do to ease the rate of home mortgage foreclosures, which in Nevada are running three or four times the national rate.
"McCain has said very little about it," Ralston said. "Obama was here to show that he cares about the number one economic issue in the state of Nevada, and begin turning the state his way."
Meanwhile, the campaign has scheduled stops in both Montana and South Dakota before Tuesday's voting.
Web Politics Editor
May 28, 2008; 4:47 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama
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