Poll finds Native voters strongly backing Sen. Obama
Update: Ron Allen is no longer supporting John McCain. The story has been revised per a letter released by Barack Obama's campaign.

The 2008 presidential race heads into its final stretch this weekend, with results of a poll showing Native voters overwhelmingly behind Barack Obama.

According to Native Vote Washington, 89 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native voters support the Democratic nominee, compared to just 6 percent for John McCain. Among those who have already voted, support for Obama was even higher -- 95 percent.

"Among Native American men, Obama leads by 86 points," the non-partisan organization said yesterday. "Among women, Obama leads by 80 points, leading us to conclude that there is no significant gender gap between Native female and male voters."

The poll was based on the views of 700 attendees of the National Indian Education Association annual convention in Seattle last week. Respondents were chosen at random among the 3,000 people at the event. Only likely Native voters, or those who already voted, were included in the survey.

Despite the strong showing for Obama in Indian Country, McCain was running even among Native voters in Oklahoma, home to more than 35 tribes and the second-largest number of Native Americans in the nation. But the poll showed that 16 percent were undecided -- the highest rate among the five states that were tracked by Native Vote Washington.

However, McCain was faring poorly in his home state of Arizona even though he has a long record of supporting tribes there. According to the poll, 74 percent of Native voters are backing Obama, compared to 14 percent for McCain. Another 12 percent were undecided.

New Mexico, which has the second-largest percentage of Native Americans in the nation, has emerged as a battleground state in the campaign. But 85 percent said they supported Obama, compared to 13 percent for McCain. Only 2 percent said they were undecided.

The numbers highlighted the tough fight the former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee faces as the race comes to a close. Polls show him trailing or neck-and-neck in a number of key states.

Though Obama lacks McCain's experience on Indian issues, the freshman senator from Illinois started his Native outreach effort early. He met with tribal leaders as early as summer of 2007 and was the first of any presidential candidate to campaign on a reservation.

The work for First Americans for Obama paid off, as more than 100 tribal leaders representing the largest Indian nations across the U.S., have endorsed Obama. Indian Country Today, the largest Indian newspaper, is backing the Democratic candidate over McCain.

Through his 25 years in Congress, first in the House and then the Senate, McCain has been known as an advocate for tribes. His name has appeared on nearly every major piece of Indian legislation, ranging from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1998 to self-governance bills in the 1990s.

But his second term as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, from January 2005 through December 2006, saw him push an unpopular bill to overhaul IGRA and reign in the expansion of the $28 billion tribal casino industry. He spent more than half of his hearings on the Jack Abramoff scandal, gaming and gaming-related controversies and no major Indian bills passed Congress during that time.

Always known for being straightforward, McCain appeared to become even more harsh towards tribal leaders who expressed views that were different than his. He bluntly told them that their opposition to the gaming bill would be ignored and said he would not support efforts to restore tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians despite high rates of crime on reservations.

Obama, on the other hand, included tribal jurisdiction in his Indian platform. Though the issue still remains controversial and would require Congressional consideration, it's one of many reasons why tribes have supported a newcomer over McCain.

"Obama's successful outreach efforts that included visits with tribal councils and speeches on reservations rendered McCain practically invisible," ICT noted in its endorsement.

The American Indians for McCain Coalition, which launched in September, boasts some impressive names. The group's honorary co-chairs are Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma who is the only Native American in Congress, and former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana who retired in 2004.

But only on elected tribal leader -- Ron Johnson, the president of thePrairie Island Indian Community of Minnesota -- has publicly endorsed McCain. The other members of the coalition are Washington lobbyists and advocates, and the non-Indian "Friends" component is stacked with lobbyists.

Related Stories:
Vicki Vasques: Sen. McCain keeps promises (10/29)
Indian Country Today: Obama for president (10/28)
Suzan Harjo: Sen. Obama's words matter more (10/27)
Sen. Obama: A full partnership with Indian Country (10/24)
McCain and Obama address NCAI via video messages (10/22)
Deron Marquez: McCain's actions matter more (10/22)