ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – John McCain and Barack Obama brought their dueling presidential campaigns to the mesas and mountains of New Mexico on Saturday, trading mocking jibes and sharp new attacks in the hotly contested state.
With Obama also campaigning in Nevada, it was a rare day in which both candidates paid heed to the West instead of the more populous battleground states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, that have drawn the most attention and resources this year.
McCain, the four-term senator from neighboring Arizona, should have enjoyed a home court advantage. But despite crisp, clear skies on a weekend morning, fewer than 1,000 supporters came out to cheer the Republican nominee in an outdoor rally at the State Fair Grounds in Albuquerque.
Later, McCain spent two hours driving through desolate, dry ranchland along the Mexican border to address a similar-size crowd on the Old West plaza in Mesilla, near Las Cruces. Not far away, Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., drew about 2,600 people to a rally for Obama in Sunland Park, according to local police.
Obama was due to speak in Albuquerque on Saturday night, after two large, boisterous rallies in Nevada.
Speaking first to 11,000 people at the University of Nevada-Reno, the senator from Illinois sharpened his usual critique of McCain, comparing him to President Bush in unflattering terms nearly two dozen times. At times, Obama laughed as he described McCain’s efforts to distance himself from the unpopular president.
“John McCain is so opposed to George Bush’s policies that he voted with him 90 percent of the time for the first eight years,” Obama said. “That’s right, he decided to really stick it to George Bush – 10 percent of the time.”
McCain, speaking in sun-washed Mesilla, derided Obama’s lack of appreciation for Latino concerns.
“My friends, Senator Obama has never been south of our border,” McCain said. “He doesn’t know these issues. I know them. … I’m proud to be a senator from the West.”
Wrong, said Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman. The Democrat visited Mexico while in college, he said.
McCain trails Obama in New Mexico by eight percentage points in an average of recent polls, according to realclearpolitics.com. Obama also appears to hold a commanding lead in Nevada and Colorado, which McCain visited Friday and where Obama heads today. The three states control 19 electoral votes, a prime target for both campaigns this year.
In Reno, Obama warned supporters that things could get nasty as the long race enters its final stretch.
“The say-anything, do-anything politics all too often takes over,” he said. “The ugly phone calls. The misleading mail and TV ads. The careless, outrageous comments. All aimed at keeping us from working together, all aimed at stopping change.”
For his part, McCain insisted that Obama will impose a “massive new tax increase” – a charge Obama staunchly denies – and warned that Democrats will “lower our defenses and raise our taxes. I want to raise our defense and lower our taxes.”
McCain argues that Obama seeks to raise taxes on small business owners like plumbers, a charge the Democrat denies. But McCain and his surrogates now have stretched the definition of a small business to include almost anyone, including the extremely wealthy.
Indeed, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who often travels with the candidate, introduced McCain’s wife, Cindy, to an outdoor rally in Durango, Colo., Friday afternoon as “a great small business woman.”
Cindy McCain heads Hensley & Co., one of America’s largest beer distributorships, which she inherited from her father. She reported taxable personal income last year of $6.1 million and is believed to be worth about $100 million.