- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sen. John McCain headed into places Republican candidates rarely go and talked about issues Republicans don’t often discuss as the Democratic presidential candidates continued to battle for their party’s nomination.

Launching a weeklong tour of “forgotten places in America,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee traveled through rural western Alabama yesterday to spotlight the poverty that pervades the area.

He also was stumping for votes in the traditionally Democratic region, known as the “black belt” because of its fertile soil.

“There must be no forgotten places in America, whether they have been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice, or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically interdependent,” Mr. McCain said.

He began his tour with a speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where Alabama police battled more than 500 civil rights demonstrators in 1965.

“John Lewis took the first blow, a baton thrust to the stomach that shoved him back on the marchers behind him. He took the second blow, too, a hard-swung club to his head, leaving a permanent scar where it struck,” Mr. McCain said of Mr. Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

One of Selma’s civil rights leaders, state Sen. Hank Sanders, a Democrat, stood behind Mr. McCain as the senator from Arizona praised Mr. Sanders’ work as co-chairman of the Alabama Black Belt Action Commission, which is trying to bring industry to the region.

Most of the people in the crowd were white. At a press conference after his speech, reporters asked whether Mr. McCain is reaching minority voters.

“I am aware the African-American vote has been very small in favor of the Republican Party. I am aware of the challenges, and I am aware of the fact that there will be many people who will not vote for me, but I’m going to be the president of all the people,” he said.

“I do not expect a unanimous vote,” he added with a smile.

Mr. McCain said he embraces change, just not the kind offered by Democrats.

“I’m not going to tell anybody about how government can make their choices for them, but how we can help grow our economy so that people have better choices to make for themselves,” Mr. McCain said.

“The time for pandering and false promises is over. It is time for action. It is time for change — the right kind of change,” he said.

He argued for limits on the federal government, rather than “policies that empower government to make our choices for us.”

Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Republicans “are the very ones who are denying our people.”

“Senator McCain should temper his visit with some reality and honesty about the plight of Alabama’s and America’s working poor,” he said.

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