Matt Gouras Associated Press HELENA
U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg said Thursday that he believes John McCain will carry Montana in November and that the Republican presidential candidate can afford to focus on more competitive states. Rehberg said Montana Republicans have told the McCain campaign to focus its efforts elsewhere. "We are asking John McCain to Spend time in states that are more in play than Montana," Rehberg said in a conference call with reporters. "We will take care of Montana for him." Democrat Barack Obama has designated Montana a battleground state and believes he can win despite years of GOP victories in presidential contests. The Illinois senator has visited the state five times, opened offices across the state, hired full-time staff and aired radio and TV ads. And running mate Joe Biden will be visiting Kalispell on Sunday. But Rehberg, talking to reporters from the Republican Na t i o n a l Co n ve n t i o n i n Minneapolis, said Obama will not be able to overcome the state's strong conservative tradition when it comes to presidential elections. "It is going to take more than five times (in the state) for Obama to connect with Montana," Rehberg said. The congressman says the state GOP, with the help of money raised by Rehberg, will deliver the state for McCain. He pointed to joint campaign offices recently set up by the Republicans. "I do not think (Montana) is in danger of becoming a blue state," Rehberg said. Obama's spokesman said campaign staff and volunteers talk to "thousands" of voters each day. "Republicans should be careful about taking Montana's independent voters for granted just look at the recent victories by Gov. (Brian) Schweitzer and Sen. (Jon) Tester," said spokesman Caleb Weaver. McCain, who finished third behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in Montana's Republican caucuses, has also faced some criticism from conservatives on such issues as gun control. Democrats believe McCain's perceived weakness on that point opens the door for Obama in the state. Rehberg, however, predicted core Republican constituencies wi l l vote for McCain i n November, citing the candidate's military background, stance on energy development and conservative credentials. "Ultimately the Republicans are going to vote for John McCain," Rehberg said.