Ridin’ the Rockies with the Democracy Corps
Barack will be here. So will Hillary and John Edwards and all the rest.They’ll be here because they love political battle, and the Rocky Mountain West is a political battleground for the 2008 presidential election. Turns out we were also a battleground for the 2006 election.The Democratic National Committee is spending more money than the gross national product of most Third World countries trying to figure out what, besides cholesterol, is in the heart of voters in the Rocky Mountain West.That means we’re going to attract an enormous amount of attention as presidential wannabes try to woo us. You won’t be able to throw a Rocky Mountain rock without hitting a candidate (which is a great reason to throw Rocky Mountain rocks).We can expect to get a lot of attention, especially in Colorado, and at least as much as those spoiled-rotten New Englanders in New Hampshire get.So basically, if you want to have tea with Hillary or break bread with Barack, you’ll likely have that opportunity.Every year both sides come up with a list of battlegrounds. This year’s list contains about 20 states and Colorado is on it, as are the other seven states in the Rocky Mountain West region.To woo us, the Democrats and Republicans must learn a little more about us. Toward that end, the Democrats dispatched heavyweight consultants Bob Shrum, James Carville and their Democracy Corps to our part of the country to see what makes us tick and whether we might be convinced to pull the donkey lever in 2008.
We might.And that led the Democracy Corps to ask, as they framed their research, “Is this region of the country evolving?”To find out exactly what this question meant, we asked David Walker of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the research firm hired by the Democracy Corps to do the first of five regional surveys. Here’s what he said: “Is it becoming not red – is it becoming purple? You’ll notice we didn’t answer that question.”Did the survey find that Republicans are just having a bad year, or that this region is in the beginning of a political realignment? Walker and others answer with a resounding “Maybe.”
Clearly Democrats have a strong hunch that the GOP may have turned the West’s “Marlboro Republicans” into Skoal Democrats. And the Democracy Corps survey at least gave them reason to continue following the hunch.For instance, the survey found that more than 60 percent of us in this region know someone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or is serving now.For us, the war is a personal issue.So are the environment and immigration. Almost all the respondents made reference to the land.”There’s an attachment to the land that you don’t see in the rest of the country,” Walker said. “Part of it is because it’s stunningly beautiful. Part of it is its tie to the region’s economy. It’s very bipartisan; they talk about the land and being in the land. “People in the northeast don’t have that.”Most campaign issues are not abstract in the Rocky Mountain West.”If you’re in Arizona or Colorado, immigration is not abstract,” Walker said. “If you’re in Wyoming or any of these states, the environment is not abstract. Because of the immediacy of the issues to their lives, they support comprehensive approaches.”Most of the discontent can be traced directly to the war in the Iraq and its handling, or mishandling, most Westerners seem to think. Walker said it seems to indicate a reaction against Republicans and “an escape to common sense.” Or perhaps a sense of political independence, a reluctance to toe anyone’s party line.The Democrats are throwing enormous resources and energy at the region. Every vote will be battled over, every issue will become important.”When I started in this business, there was considerable crossover voting. Now it’s down to 10 to 15 percent,” Walker said. “At the presidential level, it’s extremely polar. Independents tend toward the Democratic side. They’ll tell you [a candidate’s party affiliation] won’t matter, but it does.”
Politics are like sports, which is probably why Winston Churchill said, “Politics are the only sport adults should be allowed to play.” Win at home, grab a few in your opponent’s court, and you win. If you’re a Democrat that means the South and the Rocky Mountain West are now on your playing field.Politics are also cyclical. Democrats ruled the roost in the post-Watergate years. Republicans rolled into the Beltway in 1994 on Newt Gingrich’s coattails and their Contract for America but abandoned political sense when they dismissed the environmental movement as a War on the West.Westerners love their environment. They also love their guns. It helped that the Democrats finally figured that out.”The Democrats stopped committing suicide on gun control,” Walker said.Even an about-face on gun control won’t help Democrats in certain GOP strongholds, but they feel certain of making inroads in some Western states.”I don’t know if Obama or anyone else is banking on carrying Idaho,” Walker said. “Still, the most admired figure the survey found is the Democratic governor of Idaho.”New Mexico is in play, Colorado is turning Democratic in a big way, Arizona is possible unless McCain wins the Republican nomination. Democrats won’t win eight states in this region, but they could pick up two to four. From the Democrats’ perspective, that’s all found money.”
After so many years as a GOP stronghold, can Democrats make more gains in the Rocky Mountain West in 2008?If 2006 is any indication, along with their unspoken pact to leave guns out of the debate, Democrats are shooting already. Not all eight states in the region are in play – neither Barack Obama not Hillary Clinton will likely win Idaho or Utah – but most are.The battles in these new battleground states started in 2005 as Democrats took aim at secretary of state races all over the region. If they were going to have to deal with hanging chads or their equivalent, they wanted secretaries of state who were predisposed to hang them in Democratic directions.Do Democrats have a shot?
Matt Mosley, former communications director for the Democrats at the Colorado State Capitol, says the shot has already happened.”You can see it by the landslide of Democrat governors around the West,” he said. “Democrats picked up a seat in the Colorado Senate and a congressional seat.”That’s part and parcel why Democrats are holding their 2008 convention in Denver. It’s all part of the Democratic strategy to solidify those gains in the West.Hillary isn’t running as strong in the West, but she hasn’t been here much. Barack Obama raised $2.3 million in Colorado during this year’s first reporting period. Bill Richardson already has an organization in place in the state, and John Edwards has support across the region.”None of this would be happening if Democrats didn’t have a shot at reclaiming the West. If that was not true, the convention would be in New York,” Mosley said. “All this attention is great for Colorado.”Before, the only time they came to Colorado was to land the plane long enough to pick up contribution checks.”Like the Democracy Corps says in its study, “It’s too early to tell … .” And that’s true for king makers from both parties.Randy Wyrick is the editor of The Vail Trail.
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