McCain heads to Grand Junction for Election Day rally to shore up flagging support

Sen. John McCain is planning a barnstorming campaign stop today in Grand Junction for a last-ditch get-out-the-vote push. The surprise airplane hangar rally in this GOP stronghold on the Utah-Colorado border ramps up further speculation that the McCain-Palin camp’s internal polling may not be predicting as comfortable a win margin as was once expected west of the Continental Divide.

McCain’s flagging fortunes in Colorado follow a monstrous gaffe in August on renegotiating a contentious water compact to allow more downstream Colorado River water to be diverted to irrigate Arizona lawns, as Western Slope denizens oft say to deride their neighbors to the south. The nominee continued to leak support during the Wall Street meltdown as McCain made conflicting statements about the economy and tried a poorly received stunt to suspend his campaign while Congress negotiated a bailout package.

A new concern for Republicans is a Nov. 1 Desert News poll that reports McCain’s support among Mormons has slipped five points since a September survey that had the Arizona senator winning Utah handily. Pollster Dan Jones speculates that McCain’s bruising win over Mormon favorite son ex-Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and the campaign’s subsequent snub of Romney as the vice presidential pick may have put the campaign on the defensive in a reliably red state.

Romney easily won the Feb. 5 Colorado Republican caucus with 60 percent of the vote. He has been recently stumping locally for McCain in conservative strongholds that need strong voter turnout to squeeze the margins on the latest polling, which shows Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama up 5 points statewide.

Jones further raises the specter of vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at the core of an uneasy tension between Mormons and evangelical Christians throughout the election season.

Decisive wins on the Western Slope and the corridor from the south Denver suburbs to El Paso County, headquarters of dozens of national and international evangelical groups, and a frequent campaign stop for Sarah Palin who last visited the area today, are necessary for a McCain victory in Colorado.

The 11:45 a.m. campaign stop will take place at West Star Aviation Hangar #2858, 796 Heritage Way, Grand Junction. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.