washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Elections > 2004 Election

Kerry Stumps for N.M. Votes

Democrat Vows to Boost Native Americans' Health Care

By Jim VandeHei and Mary Fitzgerald
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 9, 2004; Page A04

GALLUP, N.M., Aug. 8 -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) campaigned Sunday for the Native American vote, promising to fight for sovereignty rights and greater federal assistance to tribes throughout the country.

Here in McKinley County, where three out of every four voters are Native American, Kerry told the 83rd annual Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Pow Wow that he would protect the "special relationship" between government and tribes and "uphold treaties." Speaking to thousands of tribal members, Kerry lamented poor health care coverage for Native Americans and promised more government money to fund it. He also promised to appoint more Native Americans to high posts in the White House.


Democratic nominees John F. Kerry and John Edwards make a campaign stop in New Mexico before Edwards backtracked to Kansas. (Laura Rauch -- AP)


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In New Mexico, a state Al Gore won by 366 votes in the 2000 presidential election and Kerry is counting on carrying this year, Native Americans account for 10 percent of the vote. Because most Native Americans in the state vote Democratic, Kerry is trying to increase turnout dramatically in the state's 19 pueblos, or reservations.

He met privately with the pueblo governors on a train ride into town, talking extensively about his health care plan, which would benefit Native Americans. Kerry's whistle-stop tour started Sunday at San Felipe de Neri church near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. Afterward, Kerry and his wife shopped at an outdoor market. Teresa Heinz Kerry bought a four-strand turquoise bead necklace for $125, which she grabbed from a sandwich-size Hefty bag supplied by an aide. Kerry then journeyed west, en route to stops in the battleground territory of the Southwest, first in New Mexico and later in Arizona.

In Kansas, vice presidential nominee John Edwards (N.C.) was trying to make amends with the people of Lawrence.

About 1,000 of the city's residents had gathered at the local train station Friday night to greet the Kerry-Edwards train as it rumbled westward. After waiting for hours for a glimpse of the Democratic nominees, the crowd was disappointed when the train hurtled past just after 1 a.m. without stopping.

"We raised our hand to wave, but the engineer hadn't slowed, and by the time we had waved even a little to the signs and cheers and camera flashes, it was dark again," Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, wrote in the campaign's Web log. "We sat frustrated, but we knew we were not as frustrated as the people of Lawrence, Kansas."

The Kerry campaign had not scheduled any official stops in Kansas, where President Bush clinched a 21-percentage-point victory in 2000, but last-minute arrangements were made for Edwards and his family to fly back to Lawrence from Albuquerque on Sunday.

Supporters feared disappointment yet again when rain scuttled a rally planned for the city's Buford Watson Park, but the event was eventually moved to cavernous Abe and Jake's restaurant.

If Lawrence had felt slighted on Friday night, it was long forgotten now. Supporters thronged the barn-like building, and many more waited outside.

"About the other night," an apologetic Edwards began, "you may not have seen us, but we saw you and you looked beautiful.

"For all those pundits and pollsters who say why are you taking one of your precious days to come back to Kansas and campaign when Kansas is a red state, let me tell you what John Kerry and I have to say about that -- there is no red state, there is no blue state. There is only one United States of America."

Edwards spoke of jobs, education, health care and national security. His pledge to build a nation of equals, taking his cue from his experience of seeing "the ugliest face of segregation and discrimination" while growing up in South Carolina in the 1950s, drew the loudest applause.

Meanwhile, Kerry addressed voters' concerns about the government's color-coded terrorism alert system. He told local reporters on Saturday that he has an idea to strengthen it: a neighborhood watch program to look out for and react to al Qaeda or other potential terrorists.

Kerry wants to build on the community crime-fighting program popularized by McGruff the Crime Dog in the 1980s. "If we do that to protect ourselves against vandals or a burglary, why would we not do it to protect ourselves against a terrorist?" he asked.

In a sign that the campaign has put some thought into the idea, Edwards elaborated. "We need a neighborhood-watch kind of system so that we have a way to notify people, they know what they're supposed to do," he said. "We shouldn't have millions of Americans, or hundreds of thousands, trying to figure out at 3 o'clock in the morning what they are supposed to do. They ought to know what they're supposed to do."

Kerry said the current color-coded system is confusing. But Republicans said Kerry's idea would do little to thwart terrorism. "This is more rhetoric from John Kerry and demonstrates why he has a growing credibility problem with the American people on national security," said Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman.

David Wade, a Kerry spokesman, said the neighborhood watch program has been part of his homeland security plan since 2003.

Schmidt also faulted Kerry for telling National Public Radio last week that he could significantly reduce the number of troops in Iraq during the first six months of his presidency.

Several times in the past, Kerry has said he would need to talk to commanders in the field to determine troop size before making such decisions and did not rule out increasing the number. A top Kerry adviser said the Democratic nominee's pledge to reduce troops came in response to a question and did not mark a new policy, rather a hope for improved conditions in Iraq.


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