DENVER - Democratic leaders huddled in Denver on Monday to map out their strategy to help presidential candidate Barack Obama win Colorado and the West in the general election, saying the region could be key to winning the White House.
Those attending the summit at the governor's mansion included former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and former Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Pena.
Democrats also criticized Republican presidential candidate John McCain after their meeting, saying his comments about a regional water agreement in the West were a mistake.
Salazar said after the summit that Colorado could be a key state that puts Obama over the top in the election.
"It's time to end the era of division, which George Bush brought to Washington, D.C., and move forward with a change agenda which captures the kind of unity Barack Obama will bring to the White House as president of the United States," Salazar said.
Those attending the summit agreed to emphasize Obama's plan to help the West.
Salazar said Obama's agenda will provide jobs, harness renewable energy, and promote rural American values.
Colorado Democratic congressman Ed Perlmutter, who also attended the summit, said Democratic leaders agreed the John Kerry presidential campaign made errors in the last election, including leaving millions in campaign funds unspent during the closing days of the election.
"We're not going to do that again," Perlmutter said.
Salazar said McCain made a grave error when he said last week that a key water agreement among seven Western states should be renegotiated. A spokesman said later that McCain was talking about the prospect of long-term conversations and was not advocating immediate changes.
McCain's home state, Arizona, is one of the member states.
Salazar said Obama would honor and respect the compact, which has been in effect since 1922.
Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams said McCain made a mistake on water rights that could cost him western votes.
"He was wrong on that. You can't always bat 1.000," Wadhams said.
The Colorado River is one of the most important and most fought-over water sources in the West. The 1922 compact allocates 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year to California, Nevada and Arizona, known as the lower basin states, with the rest divided among the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.
McCain said talks are needed because population growth has increased the demand for Colorado River water. He said he does not advocate actions that would weaken any state's water rights.
Wadhams said Democrats called the summit because they're worried that Obama is in trouble.
"They're wondering what's happening, so they had to meet in the panic room to figure it all out," Wadhams said.