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Nighthorse Campbell explains McCain’s Native downfall

WASHINGTON – Former Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell would have loved to have seen his old friend Sen. John McCain capture the White House, especially given McCain’s strong record on Indian issues. But it quickly became clear to the politician that McCain just wasn’t willing to compete in Indian country in the same way as President-elect Barack Obama.

“I spoke to Sen. McCain personally four different times during the campaign to see if he would meet with Indian leaders,” Nighthorse Campbell told Indian Country Today in a post-Election Day interview.

“Each time, he assured me he wanted to and he would. But then when I would call his scheduler and his staff people, they absolutely locked Indian people out. They wouldn’t let him meet with them.”

Nighthorse Campbell contrasted McCain’s meager outreach with that of Obama, who, by some counts, visited tribal leaders and/or reservations at least nine times throughout the course of the campaign.

“You can’t live on your laurels in this business,” said the Northern Cheyenne tribal chief.

“You’ve got to keep reassuring people that you’re going to be there for them, and Sen. McCain just simply didn’t do that.”

Before McCain’s loss, Nighthorse Campbell detailed a previous shortcoming involving the senator from Arizona’s campaign, centered on poor planning.

He told ICT in September that McCain’s schedulers only gave him two days notice that they wanted him to attend and speak at the Republican National Convention. They had wanted him to give a speech on tribal issues and to talk about the importance of the Indian vote.

“I just couldn’t make it,” Nighthorse Campbell said soon after the development. “I just had other commitments by that point in time.”

Ironically, the former senator served as the honorary co-chair of the American Indians for McCain Coalition, a group composed of Republican Indian leaders.

Of Obama, Nighthorse Campbell assessed that he’s “an inspiring speaker who gives hope to Indian people.”

“He really broke the glass ceiling for people of color…if an African American can become the president of the United States, why can’t a Native American?”

Nighthorse Campbell also predicted that the senator from Illinois will likely be “sensitive and inclusive.” He added that if neither McCain nor Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, had been running on the GOP ticket, he could have seen himself voting for Obama.