Kerry Pursues Hispanics, Native Americans in West

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search), on the western leg of a coast-to-coast campaign tour, courted Hispanic and Native American voters in states he hopes can give him a winning edge.

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.

"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 President Bush (search) for its 10 electoral votes. Bush and Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., campaign in New Mexico and Arizona on Wednesday.

Recent polls show Arizona tilts slightly in Bush's favor, but Kerry's campaign said 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 Monday 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 on companies that buy mineral-rich government property or extract minerals from publicly owned lands.

Kerry's program for parks includes more stringent enforcement of clean air and water regulations, and 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 during 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 also won the endorsement of Navajo Nation (search) President Joe Shirley Jr. "He has promised all Native America they will be sitting at the table," Shirley said.

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. Democrat Al Gore won the state four years ago by 366 votes, the closest margin in any state.