Video: Kerry campaigns in N.M.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/9/2004 3:54:26 PM ET 2004-08-09T19:54:26

Democrat John Kerry and President Bush are looking West this week as the battle for the White House intensifies.

On Monday, Kerry courted Hispanic and Native American voters in states that he hopes can give him a winning edge as President Bush kicked off a weeklong tour that will include stops in six Western states.

Kerry talked about health care, education and tribal rights through whistle-stops in New Mexico and Arizona. His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, sometimes added a few words in Spanish to the delight of the crowds.

Kicking off a late-night rally Sunday, Kerry pledged to invest in Native American health care before a crowd gathered in a Heritage Square.

“If there’s anything that sort of represents the fallen agenda and the confrontation with the truth in America, which is what elections are supposed to be about, it is what is happening to Native Americans in this country still,” Kerry said.

The western trek marks the second half of the Democrat’s visits to battleground states from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The trip to Arizona is Kerry’s third since the Democratic primary, evidence of a close battle with Bush for Arizona’s 10 electoral votes. Bush plans to campaign in New Mexico and Arizona with the Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a day after Kerry’s visit.

Recent polls show Arizona tilts slightly in Bush’s favor, but Kerry’s campaign said the growth in the state’s Hispanic population could help shift the balance toward the Democrats.

“We’re going to turn Arizona blue,” said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, referring to the color used on electoral maps for states that voted Democratic. Bush won Arizona in 2000.

Kerry’s tour through Arizona includes a visit by helicopter to the Grand Canyon.

The Democrats want to spend $600 million over five years on park maintenance, staffing and programs. The spending would be paid for with increased fees imposed on companies that buy mineral-rich government property or extract minerals from publicly owned lands.

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Program for parks
Kerry’s program for parks includes more stringent enforcement of clean air and water regulations, as well as a promise not to contract national park jobs to outside vendors.

The Bush campaign challenged Kerry’s criticisms that the parks have been neglected during Bush’s administration.

“President Bush has provided record funding levels for America’s national parks. John Kerry’s misleading attacks are one more reason why he has a growing credibility problem,” said Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

Kerry addressed Native American health and tribal issues at a visit to an intertribal Native American ceremony, set under towering red cliffs in Gallup, N.M., near the largest American Indian population in the Southwest.

More than half of New Mexico’s population is either Hispanic or Native American. Some of the tribal leaders boarded Kerry’s train for a discussion about Native American issues.

Kerry is looking for Native Americans to vote in large numbers and give him an edge over Bush for New Mexico’s five electoral votes. Al Gore won the state four years ago by 366 votes, the closest margin of any of the 50 states.

Bush starts in Virginia
Meanwhile, Bush started his campaign week with a town meeting in Virginia — the first stop on a tour that will take him to nine states.

At the meeting, Bush vowed to keep pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, but he tempered his tough words with talk of diplomacy, countering Democrats who say he takes a go-it-alone approach on the world stage.

“Iran must comply with the demands of the free world and that’s where we sit right now,” Bush said at an “Ask the President” campaign event in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Annandale, Va. “My attitude is that we’ve got to keep pressure on the government, and help others keep pressure on the government — so there’s going to be universal condemnation of illegal weapons activities.”

Bush stressed U.S. efforts to work with other nations to make sure the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency asks Iran “hard questions” about its weapons activities. “Foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain have gone in as a group to send a message on behalf of the free world,” he said.

For 3½ years, the administration has insisted to a largely disbelieving world that Iran was developing a dangerous nuclear capability. The administration is contending now that its doggedness is paying off.

The Virginia event got him back to the White House in time to see Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka, whose country has troops in Iraq.

Tuesday, Bush heads to Florida for a bus trip. After an overnight at his Texas ranch, he flies to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon and Iowa before returning to the White House Saturday.

From Florida through Arizona, Bush is being joined by Arizona Senator John McCain, his primary foe from 2000.

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