barack_obama_10.jpgALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday told hundreds of supporters Monday that an “economic disaster'' is upon the country and they need to vote for him to change the policies of the last eight years.

He warned supporters in one of the most impoverished states in the country that his Republican opponent John McCain wants to continue Bush's economic policies that Obama said favor the wealthiest Americans and big corporations.

“Mr. McCain, let me explain to you, the economic disaster is happening right now,'' Obama said. “The choice we have in this election is: Are we going to keep on doing the same things as John McCain is promoting or are we going to bring about fundamental change in this country?''

During his two stops in Albuquerque, the Illinois senator talked of higher costs for health care, a college education, gasoline and food, jobs shifting overseas and people losing their pensions.

He promised tax relief for the middle class as one part of the solution.

Obama appeared before about 1,800 people, standing in front of a banner that read “Change we can believe in'' at a Rio Grande High School gymnasium in Albuquerque's heavily Hispanic South Valley. Shouts of “O-ba-ma'' filled the air before he appeared.

Obama said he supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes more border security, a crackdown on employers who exploit undocumented workers and a “pathway to citizenship.''

Immigrants who have broken the law by coming into the country illegally should pay a fine, pay back taxes if they owe them and learn English, Obama said.

“If you set up those rules that are fair, then they have the opportunity to become Americans and to become part of that American dream,'' he said.

Obama was joined Gov. Bill Richardson, a former Clinton administration official who endorsed the candidate in March, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and other New Mexico politicians.

Obama also talked about bringing the majority of troops home from Iraq, which would provide savings to pay for some of his programs, continuing the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, providing affordable health care, fixing No Child Left Behind so that teachers don't have to teach to the test and the importance of renewable energy.

Earlier in the day, Obama told a group of about 50 mostly professional women at an Albuquerque library that his single mother struggled to work and attend school while raising two children.

That experience is why he pledges to fight for equal pay between male and female employees for equal work. He said women in New Mexico make 71 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

“I get mad. I get frustrated,'' said Obama, who appeared in a work shirt with the sleeves rolled up and was fighting a cold. It was the second time this summer he has met informally with a small group of women in Albuquerque.

On his fourth visit to New Mexico this campaign season, Obama talked of the swing state's importance for him to beat his Republican opponent John McCain on Nov. 4.

“We've got to seize this moment. We've got to seize the opportunity. New Mexico's going to be critical to doing that. This is going to be a close election,'' Obama said.

The state Republican Party said Monday Obama's big city values will not play in New Mexico and accused him of raising taxes and increasing gasoline and energy costs through his policies.

“Barack Obama is out of touch with New Mexico's working families and he is out of touch with issues important to Hispanics,'' said Albuquerque attorney and former congressional candidate Marco Gonzales.

Laura Nunez, an Albuquerque teacher who attended the smaller gathering, said she hasn't seen a lot of support for Obama from the Hispanic or African-American community in Albuquerque.

“I haven't in the campaign office really seen a lot of Hispanics. It's been mostly Anglos,'' Nunez said.

The volunteer for the Obama campaign said Hispanic women tend to vote for candidates opposed to abortion rights, and she fears that position will mean more votes for McCain.

“The women here are very Catholic, very conservative, and will vote for the other candidate depending on how (the abortion rights issue is) presented,'' she said.

But Nunez said the campaign is beginning leadership training for Hispanic volunteers and has heard of some pro-Obama work among Hispanics in Albuquerque's South Valley.

Obama also met privately for about half an hour with representatives from nearly all New Mexico's tribes, including the Navajo Nation, a campaign spokesman said.

Obama was last in New Mexico on June 23, when he again met with working women at the Flying Star Cafe and Satellite Coffee headquarters in Albuquerque. He has also visited Las Cruces and Santa Fe.

Obama narrowly lost the caucus to Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Espanola on Sunday stumping for her former opponent.