McCain reaches out to black voters in pitch for America's 'forgotten'

In stark contrast to his Democrat rivals, John McCain spent yesterday far from Pennsylvania, where, unopposed, he will pick up all 74 delegates. He was in a depressed steel town in Ohio, telling voters that under his leadership, the economic good times would return.

"You've been written off a few times yourselves, in the competition of the market," Mr McCain said in Youngstown. "You know how it feels to hear that good things are happening in the American economy – they're just not happening to you."

The Arizona senator is on a week-long tour of what he describes as "forgotten" places, overlooked by the other presidential candidates. It began on Monday in rural Alabama, with a speech against the backdrop of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where black civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by white police officers in 1965.

Mr McCain said that he was aware he may not win many black votes in the presidential election. But at a time when the Democratic candidate Barack Obama has attracted the attention of moderate Republicans and independent voters, Mr McCain has sought to show that he is concerned about the state of black America. While in Selma, he promised to be "president of all the people" as he stood by the iconic bridge.

Democrats have been dismissive of Mr McCain's trip, which echoed George Bush's efforts to portray himself as a "compassionate conservative" when he first ran for the White House. Along with Youngstown and Selma, Mr McCain also travelled to New Orleans. Paul Begala, a prominent Democrat, said that Mr McCain's visits to places devastated by seven years of Republican policies was like "an arsonist turning up at the scene of the fire".

But the trip has provided Mr McCain with useful video material that will doubtless be turned to good effect in the general election. At one stage he was serenaded with old spirituals by quilters from Gee's Bend, Alabama.

One quilter, Mary Lee Bendolph, said that she was supporting Barack Obama but she lavished praise on Mr McCain for visiting.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

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