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Monday, September 8, 2008

How the West (And the Presidency?) Will Be Won

posted by on September 8 at 13:30 PM

On this day of panic-attack-inducing election posts here on Slog, allow me to offer a second link (in addition to this one, from earlier) that may go some way toward soothing your Election Anxiety Disorder™.

In this month’s issue of The American Prospect I take a long look at the demographic and political changes that are putting a number of new states in play in the Mountain West.

The piece, How the West Will Be Won, took me to a small town Fourth of July parade outside of Denver and to a makeshift shooting range in the foothills of the Rockies, and it should give you a sense of why the Obama campaign thinks it can win key states such as Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado (and maybe even Montana and Arizona, too). If Obama can take the right combination of these states, he should be able to win the presidency by a comfortable electoral college margin.

From my piece:

In almost all of the states touched by the Rocky Mountain chain, a tide of Republican dominance that began in the Reagan era seems to be rapidly ebbing. These “Mountain West” states—Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico—used to appear indelibly red, and not just on presidential election nights. With few exceptions, the governors of these states were Republican, their congressional delegations were Republican-dominated, and their state legislatures were Republican-controlled. Now, as governorships, congressional seats, and state houses across the region have steadily flipped into Democratic hands over the last decade, several of these states have turned purple, and a number seem on the verge of becoming blue. To take just one leading indicator: In 2000, not a single governor in the Mountain West was a Democrat. Today, the majority of the governors in the region are Democrats, including the governor in Dick Cheney’s home state of Wyoming.

This dramatic turnabout is rooted in a complicated mix of demographic changes, new economic realities, improved Democratic candidates, and a general disenchantment with the direction of the country. But it is reverberating up the political ladder and resulting in some unusual political moments this year, such as when Barack Obama decided to spend his Fourth of July in Montana, a state with only three electoral votes, and arrived there to news of a poll that showed him with a surprising five-point lead in the state.

This year’s Democratic National Convention was placed in Denver precisely because of the sense of opportunity in the region. With memories of a record-shattering pro-Obama turnout in Colorado’s Democratic caucuses fresh in their minds, some political analysts are predicting Obama will win the state in November, an outcome that—along with other potential Obama wins in Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona—could completely alter the electoral map.

“There’s one word that explains most of it,” said John Straayer, a professor of political science at Colorado State University. “And that’s ‘Republicans.’” Voters in the Mountain West still have a conservative bent, but, Straayer and others told me, they’ve become tired of the wedge issues, the cultural crusading, and, most of all, the war. They’re independent thinkers by nature, and they want answers from pragmatists, not pabulum from ideologues. “James Dobson and Grover Norquist don’t get your highways paved,” Straayer told me. “They don’t get your universities funded. They just tear it apart and elevate other issues.”

Pat Williams, the nine-term Democratic congressman from Montana who now watches trends in the region as a senior fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, said that Republicans used to count on the high peaks of the Rockies as a kind of magic barrier—not just the marker of the Continental Divide but also a kind of cultural and political divide that would keep liberal successes contained to the Pacific Coast. “For Republicans, the Rockies are like a levee,” Williams said. “The levee on the left bank. It’s been leaking. Republicans have been doing a lot of sandbagging out here, but it’s starting to break, and if it does, it’s going to flood Republicans out for a long time.”

The rest is here.

RSS icon Comments


Once you travel outside of King County, Washington is not a lot different from the other states mentioned in this excerpt.

Washington should go to Obama by a pretty healthy margin. But we also need to use the same arguments, like "James Dobson and Grover Norquist don't get your highways paved" to re-elect Gregoire and elect Ladenburg, Goldmark, McIntire, and Osgood.

Fact is, Republican policies, and conservatism in general, quit doing jack shit for rural communities and rural economies a long time ago.

Posted by ivan | September 8, 2008 1:32 PM

Let's really, really hope the "pabulum from ideologues" aversion has them gagging like a porn star on her first day on set over Sarah "Let's Just Pray on This" Palin and her insane far-Right evangelical nonsense. If by pandering to the Deep South holy-rolling Base they've destroyed any chance of swinging "pragmatic" Western states, I'll be very pleased indeed.

Everyone keep an eye on, it's the only polling place I trust.

Posted by Elvis Dingeldein | September 8, 2008 1:38 PM

How is it possible that no one has posted anything about the travesty known as the VMAs?! Also, I saw Blayne from Project Runway at Pike Place Market on Saturday. News schmooze, bring on the fluff!

Posted by Carollani | September 8, 2008 1:45 PM
Levee (2) is a dike built to keep a river within its banks: We sandbagged the weak spots in the levee. A levy is either an assessment or a tax or the imposition of one ...
(Columbia Guide to Standard American English, per
Posted by RonK, Seattle | September 8, 2008 1:48 PM

If Gregiore was smart (yeah right) she would get Obama to make a couple of stops in Eastern Washington to appear with her. She stands a good chance of getting beat by Rossi.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | September 8, 2008 1:50 PM

@5, no she doesn't

@3, what's a "VMA"?

Posted by Just Sayin' | September 8, 2008 2:01 PM


Video Music Awards

What? You live under a rock?

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 8, 2008 2:07 PM

Video Music Awards. It's MTV's awful award show.

Posted by Carollani | September 8, 2008 2:07 PM

Even I know that and I'm "fake".

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 8, 2008 2:08 PM

The single best thing you and I and everyone we know who wants Obama and Biden in the White House can do is VOTE! My fear is that the excitement Obama generated in the primaries will not quite be matched in the presidential election, simply because the younger voters that came out to support him then will crawl back into apathy and not vote. Please, please, please vote in November. Make sure all your cronies are on board. Register to vote NOW. Get registered for absentee voting NOW. Come election day drag everyone you know along with you to vote. It is truly the only way to avoid the gay-bashing, anti-abortion, pro-war, oil-drilling, bible-thumping propaganda machine from continuing to run this country into the ground for another four to eight years. Change my a**, McCain. Status quo and more of the same. VOTE!!!!

Posted by beaconhill | September 8, 2008 2:09 PM

I don't know if you saw this, but a large number of Republican delegates interviewed during their convention (before the Palin announcement) were saying "we need to move away from the Christianist position" and "I ain't no evangelical" and "let's keep religion out of politics". Which seemed to be the general trend. But Palin brought it all back.

Obama needs to assure those people that he is stable and intelligent, and it's all over for McCain.

Posted by Fnarf | September 8, 2008 2:11 PM

I agree with your mountain-states-are-the-key-to-this-election theory. The reason that the Palin pick worries me is that she resonates with a fair cross-section of the interior West -- in the toss-up mountain states of Colorado, Montana and Nevada, think anyone outside of Denver, Boulder, Missoula, Bozeman and Las Vegas. She's one of them, much more than she's a Southerner or evangelical. Winning the mountain states was never going to be easy for Obama; Palin makes it harder.

Posted by dale | September 8, 2008 2:13 PM

There are still music videos? Where are they shown? Why would MTV be giving awards for them?

Posted by Just Sayin' | September 8, 2008 2:15 PM


You've stumped me there...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 8, 2008 2:32 PM

Dr. Straayer was one of my prof's at Colorado State University - great guy. Anyway, the 4th CD where CSU/Ft. Collins is located, is currently represented by Marilyn Musgrave, and she's in for a fight this year. That would have been unheard of 2-4 years ago. That my friends, is good news.

Posted by go Rams! | September 8, 2008 2:32 PM

dale@12 has it right. I think that the Dem's Mtn West strategy was the motivating factor for the Rs to pick Palin. They knew what Obama was up to, he certainly made it clear, and their response was to pick a 'sraight-talking' hunter/outdoorswoman. Shrewd stuff. It just means, though, that the Dems really need to hammer her on the points that will alientate her from the West - her moral stances.

Posted by boyd main | September 8, 2008 2:33 PM

Didn't one or more Slog writers declare the race as-good-as-won last week? In that context -- why pay any attention to the polls, or the issues, or the states, or anything?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | September 8, 2008 2:34 PM

@4 Thanks much. Fixed here, and there.

Posted by Eli Sanders | September 8, 2008 2:35 PM

This is so, super video

Posted by Grikoli | September 8, 2008 2:39 PM


The single best thing you and I and everyone we know who wants Obama and Biden in the White House can do is VOTE!

Actually, the single best thing you and I and everyone we know who wants Obama and Biden in the White House can do is to move to Ohio, Colorado, or any other swing state and VOTE there.

If you're voting in Washington, you may as well vote for McKinney, or Nader, or Mickey Mouse, because Obama has a huge lead and we're not even on the GOP's radar.

Posted by Mahtli69 | September 8, 2008 2:40 PM

Obama probably won't pop back up in Washington, and if he does, it'll be a brief stop...we're more likely to get Michelle or Biden.

Posted by michael strangeways | September 8, 2008 2:40 PM

Wishful Thinking. Florida & Ohio are still the big fish. This is going to get ugly if members of the Kennedy wing of the party are already grasping at straws, like this.

Posted by mydquinn | September 8, 2008 2:41 PM

go Rams @ 15 -- Hadn't you heard? Rep. Musgrave was "in for a fight" (Angie Paccione) last cycle, winning by 2.5%. She was "in for a fight" the previous cycle (Stan Matsunaka), and won 51-45 ... a rematch of the fight of 2002, when she won 55-42.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | September 8, 2008 2:48 PM

I think the mountain states are in play, and important this year, but Obama still has to take at least one, if not two of the big guys; Michigan, Ohio, Virginia or Florida to win and that's only if he remains ahead in PA...

Posted by michael strangeways | September 8, 2008 2:53 PM

ron paul will peel off 5% of the GOP vote in the mountain west: montana, esp. that might be enough.

but i doubt it. americans are proving dumber than i had ever imagined.

Posted by max solomon | September 8, 2008 3:13 PM

Very great theory: if Obama wins lots of mountain states, he can win.


Meanwhile, if he loses OH FL NH etc. he can lose.

Where do you have any polls from these mountain states showing what you say is a possibility is ging to be the reality?

The realclear politics poll (see their electoral map, no toss ups view) consistently shows most of the states you mention as going to McCain. And in CO Obama is only leading by their average of other polls of 0.3 points.

In other words, by nothing.

Do you see Obama campaigning in the west? Nope, he's in Ohio, WI, he has Hillary in FL, he's in MI, etc. etc.

So, Obama can count electoral votes and the big fish that can swing are still OH PA MI WI throw in FL and to expand the map throw in VA.

You're just putting out this western theory as a kind of reaction to the fact that Obama's lead is gone. It's a distraction. It's like saying, "Do NOt Worry...Remain Calm...Let's Not Do Anything Different" (like hone the economic message; focus the volunteers in swing states; or make some kind of historic tour du rust belt w/ Clintons).

The biggest river running through the West right now, esp. Pacific NW, is da Nile baby.

"Oh those 12-point shifts in poll numbers? Absolutely meaningless. Move right along folks......"

Posted by PC | September 8, 2008 4:03 PM

This is a nice theory, but the polling data refutes it. Of the states listed, only New Mexico actually has any polling data indicating that Obama is likely to win there. Colorado has been close, polling fairly even (McCain leads there now, but that is his convention bounce). ALL of the rest of the mountain west states are polling red or heavily red. And Idaho? Forget it. I agree that they are less red than they were a decade or so back, but so far I see no indication that Obama has any real chance of winning any of these states except New Mexico and MAYBE Colorado.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | September 8, 2008 4:33 PM

"Obama campaign thinks it can win key states such as Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado (and maybe even Montana and Arizona..."

Hi. I'm Joe Biden.

Yipee Yo Ky-Yea.

Posted by John Bailo | September 8, 2008 4:36 PM

you might use more than one source...Obama HAS been polling well in NM, NV, MT and ND.

But yes, he will need to be spending a lot of time in FL, VA, MI and OH...

And, Florida could be reachable, barring any funny business come election day...that rightwing lady from Alaska who belongs to that rightwing church, (after renouncing Catholicism), will not play well with the sizable Jewish and Cuban populations in Florida...The Republicans have the crackers and the evans, and the Dems already have the blacks and the gays...except to see lots of Miami stops for both McSame and Obama.

Posted by michael strangeways | September 8, 2008 4:38 PM

Dale nailed it - Palin IS the last fronitier woman and she is VERY appealing to all the Western States.

The theory that Dems. are going to carry Montana - Colorado etc is now political hail mary, cross you legs for luck stuff.

Obama won't. Sorry.

Mc Cain WAS a champion of immigration reform - Hispanics will link to the appeal of the frontier woman and Obama is fucked.

This is not an intellectual sprint, but a guts and blood race to win. Palin does well in the guts and blood corner - Gun issues in the West anybody? Recreational fishing and hunting anybody? More drilling anybody?

In the old and new West, NO BODY is castigated by their religion, or their family matters. Most of their grandmothers were pregnant before marriage and so are their sisters.

The three days of smear to a strong frontier woman and motivated woman have done real damage in the West.

The mountain West is ultra Patriot - who has that issued locked? The area is dominated by hundreds of defense installations of all stripes.

Did someone mention Mormons? Lots of them in the West, very anti choice, they vote, they vote - it is in the Articles of Faith, they donate and will be a factor. Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana will stay red. Period. Likely, New Mexico, Colo., and Arizona.

Posted by John | September 8, 2008 5:34 PM

I live in one of two blue counties in Wyoming, and people here are pretty pro-Obama. But the rest of the state is focusing on energy--the reason Wyoming has a budget surplus right now, when other states are in major deficit. There's no way I can see Wyomingites voting for anything other than pro-drilling, pro-oil candidates, sadly.

It sucks to live in a state where my vote won't really count, but I'm still going to the polls on election day.

Posted by kj | September 8, 2008 9:31 PM

I just spent two weeks in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming camping and traveling with the family. I grew up in Spokane so the area is not unfamiliar to me.

Obama has a real chance to win Montana. He has more offices, more volunteers, has visited several times, and is spending more money there. Some of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country are in Montana and Idaho's larger cities. The I-90 corridor from Missoula to Bozeman is has an appealing mix of natural beauty, major colleges, and a fairly diverse economy. Boise is growing by leaps and bounds and over a quarter of a million people live in the area already. Increasingly, these metropolitan areas in Mountain West states are accounting for a far higher percentage of the state population.

We won't win Idaho...yet. But we can pick off several swing Mountain West states and force McCain to spend resources in "safe" states that he otherwise could blow off.

kj--Wyoming is a tougher nut to crack, but even there more people are living in blue counties. Hopefully you can help elect some good local D's.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | September 8, 2008 10:04 PM


Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida! Still! Large Number of Electoral votes! Close races! Forget the west! What are they thinking!

Posted by Concerned Canadian | September 9, 2008 1:03 AM

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