What do Western voters want? According to Republicans, it’s candidates who are from the West like them.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Wednesday that with an all-Western GOP presidential ticket, Democrats are going to have a hard time claiming their candidates are in touch with voters in Nevada and the rest of the region.
Specifically, he said, Nevadans want candidates who oppose gun control and tax hikes and who will aggressively pursue domestic drilling for oil and natural gas.
“We have two Westerners … versus an Easterner and a Midwesterner,” Ensign said of the presidential contest, which pits Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican ticket, against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden on the Democratic side.
“Water, public lands issues, a lot of these things we live with on a daily basis, they know how important these issues are to the West,” Ensign told a conference call of reporters Wednesday afternoon.
With McCain and Palin in the White House, he said, Nevadans would find a more sympathetic reception for their issues.
The Democrats believe otherwise, pointing to the fact that tens of thousands of voters have signed up with the Democratic Party in the state in recent months, leaving the GOP in the dust.
Obama spokeswoman Kirsten Searer pointed to Obama’s strong showing in Western states during the primary and polls that show Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado to be top presidential battlegrounds.
“He’s right on the issues important to Westerners,” she said. “He plans on giving a tax cut to 95 percent of workers, which will benefit many more Nevadans than Senator McCain’s plan. Senator Obama is a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He does not want to take away people’s guns.”
The Republicans have seemed to gain momentum nationally in recent weeks, with Palin’s addition to the ticket sparking intense public interest and bolstering support among independent voters in polls.
Searer said of Palin, “She is not a solution to the problems that we have. McCain-Palin represents four more years of the same failed Bush economic policies. That’s the No. 1 issue in this election.”
Ensign said the campaign in Nevada is capitalizing successfully on interest in Palin, who is scheduled to visit the state Saturday for a rally in Carson City.
“We need to use the Governor Palin spark — it’s more like a blow torch than a spark,” he said, adding that she has “really energized Republicans” and drawn independents to the campaign.
He called the Obama-Biden ticket “maybe the most anti-gun ticket that’s ever been put forward in a presidential race,” noting that both senators have received F ratings from the National Rifle Association.
The NRA this week sent fliers to its 4 million members urging them to vote against Obama. It cited his statements against allowing the carrying of concealed weapons and for the former ban on assault weapons as examples.
Searer said Obama “respects the right of lawful gun owners to hunt, target shoot and use guns to protect their families.”
Ensign said Republicans will also gain traction painting Obama as a tax-and-spend candidate.
Obama, he said, has proposed myriad new government programs, “which will require higher taxes” to pay for.
The Obama campaign maintains that its platform of increasing taxes only on those making more than $250,000 a year wouldn’t affect most people, though Republicans say there would be a trickle-down effect on goods and services.
Another potential decider in Nevada is energy, Ensign said. “The Obama-Biden ticket is against offshore drilling, against opening new areas to drilling, against oil shale drilling,” he said.
With Nevada’s reliance on tourism that runs on jet fuel and gasoline, the issue is of extra concern, he said.
Searer said Obama is the one who has promoted the renewable energy push that will bring jobs to Nevada and relieve dependence on foreign oil.
While Obama, like McCain, once was steadfastly opposed to offshore drilling, he now says he will accept it if it is part of a compromise plan that also invests in renewables.
On other Western issues, McCain has had explaining to do. Last month, he told a Colorado newspaper he thought the Colorado River water compact should be renegotiated, then quickly backtracked and said he didn’t support renegotiation. In Nevada, he has faced questions about his support for the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
On Yucca Mountain, which Ensign opposes, he said he believed McCain could be swayed.
“Senator McCain supports recycling nuclear waste. He’s a very strong proponent of that,” Ensign said. “When you start recycling nuclear waste, it’s going to become increasingly clear that Yucca Mountain is unnecessary.”
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.