McCain Begins Tour Of Poor Communities

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has his portrait shot during a campaign stop in Selma, Ala., Monday, April 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) AP

Republican John McCain on Monday recalled the bloody beatings of civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as he began a weeklong tour of communities he said suffer from poverty and inattention from presidential candidates.

McCain described in vivid detail the clubbing that fractured the skull of John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia. McCain, who speaks often of courage shown by military veterans, said he never saw greater courage than Lewis and the marchers showed that day, March 7, 1965.

"There must be no forgotten places in America, whether they have been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice, or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically interdependent," McCain said outside the St. James Hotel, several hundred yards away from the historic bridge.

"In America, we have always believed that if the day was a disappointment, we would win tomorrow. That's what John Lewis believed when he marched across this bridge," McCain said.

The crowd of about 100 people was mostly white although, as the campaign noted, Selma's population is 70 percent black.

Asked about the makeup of the crowd, McCain said: "I am aware the African American vote has been very small in favor of the Republican Party. I am aware of the challenges, and I am aware of the fact that there will be many people who will not vote for me, but I'm going to be the president of all the people."

Part of Alabama's Black Belt - named for its soil, although the region itself also is two-thirds black - Selma hardly has been forgotten by the Democrats in the 2008 presidential campaign. Last year, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Clinton visited Selma to mark the anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march.

But the area remains desperately poor, which is why McCain chose it for his "It's Time for Action" tour.

The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting is still trying to fend off criticism that he has been indifferent to the housing crisis and the market upheaval it spawned. Last month, McCain said he opposed aggressive government intervention. Since then, however, he has proposed aid for struggling homeowners, a summer holiday from federal gas taxes and other measures.

"I'm not going to tell anybody about how government can make their choices for them, but how we can help grow our economy so that people have better choices to make for themselves," McCain said.

The Arizona senator arrived Sunday in Selma, and shared a fried chicken dinner with GOP Gov. Bob Riley at the Downtowner Restaurant with members of the Tuesday Club, a racially mixed, low-profile group of Selma professionals who meet monthly for drinks and dinner, according to the campaign.

On Monday, McCain planned to follow his Selma speech with a ferry ride from the remote Alabama town of Gee's Bend. The ferry had been closed for 44 years, until 2006, by county leaders to keep black residents from crossing the river to the county seat to push for civil rights. The trip is 80 miles without the ferry.

His tour then goes to Youngstown, Ohio, eastern Kentucky and New Orleans' Ninth Ward, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

McCain is competing for attention with Clinton and Obama, who were battling for votes in Tuesday's hotly contested primary in Pennsylvania.

Then his tour goes to Youngstown, Ohio, eastern Kentucky and New Orleans' Ninth Ward, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

McCain is competing for attention with Clinton and Obama, who were battling for votes in Tuesday's hotly contested primary in Pennsylvania.

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