DENVER | Call it the Don't Forsake Me Tour.
Beginning Friday, Sen. John McCain embarked on a three-day tour of three states that voted for President Bush in 2004 but have swung dramatically to Democrats this year, forcing the McCain campaign to all but concede the states to Democratic presidential opponent Sen. Barack Obama.
In Colorado, Mr. McCain campaigned with former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, renowned for his late-game comebacks, but there are no major league professional sports teams in the other two states - Iowa and New Mexico - to offer him a boost.
"We need to win Colorado on November 4th, and with your help, we are going to win Colorado," the Republican presidential nominee told hundreds of supporters in Denver.
Mr. McCain also took care of some local issues here, promising not to allow renegotiation of the Colorado River Compact that allocates water among a handful of southwestern states. Democrats said that statement was a flip-flop on a recently held McCain position.
Mr. McCain campaigns Saturday in New Mexico and will be in Iowa on Sunday - but McCain campaign aides have been quoted saying they consider the three states lost.
Together, the states account for 21 electoral votes, which is enough to make up the margin by which Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry lost to Mr. Bush in 2004. Mr. Bush won 286 electoral votes to Mr. Kerry's 251, while one electoral vote went to Mr. Kerry's running mate, John Edwards.
In 2004, Mr. Bush won Iowa and New Mexico by less than one percentage point, while he won Colorado by nearly 5 percent.
This year, the latest RealClearPolitics.com average of polls shows Mr. Obama ahead 50.4 percent to 45 percent in Colorado, 50.7 percent to 42.3 percent in New Mexico and a whopping 53 percent to 40.5 percent in Iowa.
And the Obama campaign said early-voting trends in those states bear out their optimism.
In Colorado, where Republicans have traditionally outdistanced Democrats in early voting, Democrats have taken the lead this year, with 39 percent of all early ballots so far cast by registered Democrats.
In 2004, Democrats accounted for just 34 percent of the total of early ballots.
In Iowa, the Democratic voter share is running two percentage points better than it did in 2004 in early voting; while in New Mexico, it is six percentage points higher.
"We very much like what we are seeing," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
The Obama camp is trying to expand into other Bush states, deploying vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to rally supporters in West Virginia on Friday, where he also played local politics, assuring the West Virginia crowd that "clean coal" is part of Mr. Obama's energy strategy, contrary to what he told an Ohio voter last month.
Mr. Biden said coal states such as West Virginia could add thousands of jobs by developing the technology needed to help power plants worldwide burn coal more cleanly.
"Barack and I believe clean coal is part of our energy future," he said. "That's why we supported adding $200 million in funding for carbon capture and sequestration technology. Instead of pouring our energy dollars into the sands of Saudi Arabia and the pockets of Venezuela, we should be exporting homemade technology - solving not only our own energy challenges, but the world's."
Mr. Obama, himself, left the campaign trail Friday to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.
Overall, Democrats have put Mr. McCain far more on the defensive. Other than Pennsylvania and possibly New Hampshire, he doesn't have a good shot at flipping any state that voted Democratic in the last presidential election.
Meanwhile, pundits say Iowa is as good as lost to Republicans, while Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Montana are all in play.
Mr. McCain is also suffering from criticism from those in his own party who say he has squandered chances and is running on a convoluted message.
Adding to his troubles in places like Colorado is an influx of new voters who have boosted Democrats in state races in the past four years.
Chuck Gravelle, a Republican voter who was at Mr. McCain's Denver rally, said having Mr. Elway's backing will actually matter in the election.
"Elway is just huge here," he said, adding that if Mr. McCain wanted to close the deal, he should deploy California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make a pitch to all the former Californians now living here: "All Schwarzenegger has to do is say Obama will spend like [former California Gov.] Gray Davis."
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