WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain spends this week visiting economically struggling areas of the United States to show Americans he is a different kind of Republican.
McCain’s trip is part of a bid to attract more independent voters who could be crucial in the November election, taking advantage of the tense battle for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
McCain, an Arizona senator, will travel to the “Black Belt” of Alabama, the Appalachia region of Kentucky, the hard-hit steel town of Youngstown, Ohio, and Hurricane Katrina-stricken New Orleans, reaching out to poorer areas where Republican candidates often do not go looking for votes.
“We will travel to areas of this country that in many ways have been forgotten and left behind,” said senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt.
McCain will listen to people’s concerns and offer recommendations on what government can do to lift people up or loosen excessive government bureaucracy.
Schmidt said McCain would say if elected, “Places that have been overlooked will not be overlooked any more.”
He starts out on Monday with remarks at a historic site in the U.S. civil rights movement -- the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where demonstrators in 1965 were attacked by police with clubs and tear gas.
Since locking up his party’s presidential nomination in March, McCain has not received as many headlines as his Democratic rivals. He has used the time to raise money and attempt to bring skeptical conservatives behind him.
He is also spending a lot of time expressing a message aimed at moderates and independents, such as his emphasis on tackling global warming, and this week’s trip is part of that effort.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said McCain had the broadest appeal across the ideological spectrum than any Republican since Ronald Reagan, and it would be “a bad move on our part if we didn’t try to expand those coalitions and bring them into the McCain tent as much as possible.”
McCain is trying to cash in on the Democrats’ extended battle. Advisers have made clear that the longer the Democratic fight goes on, the better for McCain because it means the entire Democratic machine has not yet turned all its fire on him.
Davis said the McCain camp fully anticipated the Democrat who wins the nomination to face McCain in November will get a bump in the polls from that victory, but “the question is how big a bump, how deep a bump.”
Only once in the past half century has a presidential candidate from the party that has held the White House two consecutive terms gone on to win. That was George H.W. Bush in 1988, succeeding Republican Ronald Reagan.
With the U.S. economy on the brink of recession, Americans feeling the country is on the wrong track, and weak approval ratings for President George W. Bush, the McCain camp knows it has a tough election battle on its hands.
“There are significant environmental hurdles that we have to get over and we’re real practical about it,” Davis said.
The McCain campaign has increased its staff to about 150 from 100 since capturing the nomination and believes it will have enough money to compete strongly despite lagging far behind Obama and Clinton in fundraising at this stage.
“We’ll be prepared whenever the Democratic nominee emerges for the general election,” said senior McCain strategist Charlie Black.
Editing by Peter Cooney
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