WASHINGTON -- John McCain plans to spend next week reaching out to African-Americans, displaced factory workers and people living in poverty — voters not usually associated with the Republican Party.
Starting Monday, the presumptive GOP nominee for president will stop in Alabama's "Black Belt," then move on to the struggling steel town of Youngstown, Ohio, and the Appalachian region of Kentucky. The Arizona senator is also trying to make it to New Orleans, which is still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
"I want to tell people living there that there must not be any forgotten parts of America, any forgotten Americans," McCain told newspaper editors this week.
"A lot of moderate white voters want a president who can reach out to the disadvantaged," said John Pitney, a former House GOP aide and government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. "So McCain has to show he's making the effort."
McCain "is sending the signal that he's a different kind of Republican," which he must do to attract independent voters unaligned with either party, Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.
"Independents voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2006," Ayres said, when Republicans lost control of Congress. McCain can win, Ayres said, only if independents vote for him in 2008.
That won't be easy, said David Bositis, senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank in Washington, D.C. McCain is saddled with an unpopular war in Iraq, a struggling economy and a current Republican president with low approval ratings. "Those are his problems," Bositis said. "He would be Bush's successor."
The Democratic National Committee plans to shadow McCain's trip, arguing he is no different than President Bush on issues ranging from Iraq war policy to tax cuts. DNC spokesman Damien LaVera said he's confident the more of McCain voters see, the more they'll see "he's the wrong choice for the future of our country, particularly in the communities hit hardest by the Bush-McCain agenda."
Much of McCain's itinerary is in heavily Democratic areas.
McCain is slated to spend part of Monday in the heart of the Black Belt, which is named for the region's dark soil. The congressional district that includes this region voted for Democrat John Kerry over Bush in 2004 and is 62% black.
Youngstown, where once-thriving steel mills have been shuttered or torn down, is also a Democratic stronghold. Kerry won 63% of the vote in the congressional district that includes Youngstown.
The Eastern Kentucky stop is more congenial to Republicans. McCain is scheduled to be in Inez, part of a congressional district that is 97% white and where 61% of voters backed Bush's re-election.
McCain is welcome in his district, said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., but McCain must provide specifics on such challenges as rural poverty and unemployment. Davis backs Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination.
While the trip may be "a tactical move" by McCain to show he's not a "standard-issue" Republican, Davis said, "the problem is his positions are those of a standard-issue Republican."