WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, looking to expand his lead in the US presidential race, mocked John McCain for trying to distance himself from George W Bush as both candidates courted western states that could decide the election in a little more than a week. Both candidates yesterday were targeting the same trio of western states - Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. The flurry of appearances by Mr Obama and Mr McCain likely represent the last time in a long, testy campaign that the toss-up territory of the West will get this much attention. Electoral prizes in the East, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, will soon take command as the Nov 4 vote approaches. Mr Obama yesterday recharged his habit of lumping Mr McCain with the unpopular Mr Bush, a fellow Republican. Mr McCain has outspokenly blamed Mr Bush's leadership for the country's woes in recent days. "John McCain attacking George Bush for his out-of-hand economic policy is like (Vice President) Dick Cheney attacking George Bush for his go-it-alone foreign policy," Mr Obama said. Later in the day, Mr Obama put Mr McCain's criticism of Mr Bush this way: "It's like Robin getting mad at Batman." Mr Obama said it was too late for Mr McCain to portray himself as independent from Mr Bush after standing with him for years. Mr McCain has a mixed record of supporting and bucking Mr Bush. As the front-running Mr Obama campaigned at a baseball stadium, Mr McCain was at an outdoor rally at the New Mexico state fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The Republican from nearby Arizona claimed he had the edge in battleground states in the region, calling himself "a fellow Westerner". "Sen Obama has never been south of the border," with Mexico, said Mr McCain, arguing that he has a feel for issues such as water that resonate throughout the region. Mr Obama's campaign said Mr Obama has, in fact, been to Mexico before he got into public office. Mr McCain continued to portray Mr Obama, an Illinois senator, as a tax-and-spend liberal certain to push for more government and higher spending. "He believes in redistributing wealth," Mr McCain said. "That's not America." Mr McCain also appeared at a rally in Mesilla, New Mexico, where he emphasised his status as a fellow Westerner who understood regional issues. Mr Obama, at a night rally in Albuquerque, told supporters to "not let up". Democrat Al Gore won the state by just 366 votes in 2000, even though he ultimately lost the election.
Mr Obama resumed his campaign in Nevada after spending Thursday night and Friday in Hawaii with his grandmother, who is gravely ill. He offered thanks to those who wished her well. Despite sour polls, Mr McCain pledged a scrappy close to the campaign. "We're a few points down and the pundits, of course, as they have four or five times, have written us off," said Mr McCain. "We've got them just where we want them." Mr McCain was headed briefly to El Paso, Texas, before moving on to Iowa, a Midwestern state where he is looking to make up for some lost ground in a state campaign aides argue is closer than the public polling shows. Mr McCain was to appear on national Sunday morning television show Meet the Press and hold a campaign rally. Mr Obama is campaigning today in Colorado, also in the West.