2008 How the West (And the Presidency?) Will Be Won
posted by September 8 at 13:30 PMon
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.