McCain, Palin take the fight out West
The West may be won this year by one of its own. The appeal of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin with ranchers, hunters and gun owners has lifted the hopes of McCain campaign officials, who say Sen. Barack Obama’s plan of carrying several Western states this November have been derailed by the hockey-mom-turned-Alaska-governor.
Western Democrats acknowledge that Mrs. Palin made a strong impression with her vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech, but they say Sen. John McCain’s running mate will have a negligible impact in Western battleground states such as Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
“From what I’ve heard from people here, there is a general impression she was well-received because of her speech, but looking at the bigger picture, I don’t think she will have any effect on the race in Montana,” said state Democratic Chairman Dennis McDonald.
“The reason is that Senator Obama has been here five times since this spring and summer, the last time nine days ago, and has opened up 16 campaign offices statewide. McCain has not been here in eight years and has no presence in the state,” he said.
Actually, the Republican Party has five campaign offices in the state, which President Bush carried by a 20-point margin in 2004, although it is true that the Republican nominee has not set foot in the state since 2000.
However, McCain campaign officials said Monday that the Arizona senator and Mrs. Palin are one of the strongest Western tickets in memory and that both exude Western cultural and social values that are alien to the Democratic ticket from Chicago and Delaware.
McCain campaign strategists are distributing remarks by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, who told the New York Times in April that “in Montana, we like our guns. We like big guns. We like little guns. We like shotguns. We like pistols. Most of us own two or three guns. Gun control is hitting what you shoot at.”
When asked later that month why he thought neither Mr. Obama nor primary challenger Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton could win Montana, Mr. Schweitzer replied, “Guns.”
“Governor Palin is obviously about as much a Westerner as you can be with her background as a hunter, fisherman. Both geographically and personally, she has a strong connection to the West. She understands how they live, the issues they care about, and we think she’s got strong appeal out there,” said Brian Rogers, Mr. McCain’s campaign press secretary.
“We haven’t seen a ticket as strong from the West and as strong on the issues that Western folks care about,” he said, adding that the McCain-Palin campaign planned to attack Mr. Obama aggressively for his advocacy of gun control.
“He can’t hide from his gun-grabbing record. We are going to make that contrast clear. Palin adds something to that argument, having a long history of support for Second Amendment rights, and identifies with the culture of hunters and the outdoors, probably more than any other nominee in a long time,” Mr. Rogers said.
Mrs. Palin makes no secret that she is a lifelong National Rifle Association member, and the NRA will be promoting her and Mr. McCain’s candidacy this fall, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Monday.
“Palin helps to center all those feelings among voters who want their Second Amendment freedoms protected from Washington politicians. Her candidacy is making a big difference in terms of enthusiasm and activism and votes for the ticket,” Mr. LaPierre said.
Nevertheless, Democrats intend to make inroads into the West’s Republican territory in the mountain and Plains states that Mr. Bush swept from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande in his 2004 re-election bid.
Bolstering that aim is the fact that several Western states being targeted by the Obama-Biden campaign have been trending Democratic in their state elections in recent years and polls show the race is surprisingly close in a number of them.