Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Brian Schweitzer, Democratic revival in the Mountain West get props in this article

The Washington Examiner and David Mark deserve credit for latching on to this evolving story:
Look west, Democrats!

August 30 '05
By David Mark

President George W. Bush's Rocky Mountain state sweep in 2004 was broad but shallow, as Democrats performed surprisingly well in several down-ballot races.

The Colorado and Montana legislatures went Democratic. Brian Schweitzer won the Montana governorship, following up on the 2002 victory of Gov. Dave Freudenthal in rock-ribbed Republican Wyoming. In Colorado, Ken Salazar picked up a Senate seat for the Democrats, running four points ahead of presidential nominee John F. Kerry.

These recent Western successes point to potentially fertile political ground for Democrats mapping out Electoral College game plans for the 2008 presidential election. With the South now a Republican lock in presidential politics, the competitiveness of Western states has taken on increasing importance.

Factors for the Democratic resurgence out west vary state to state, but some common themes are clear. With Republicans controlling the White House, Congress and several state houses, Western Democrats can legitimately portray the GOP as the status quo and argue they are the party of change.

In an ironic twist, Democrats can run as quasi-libertarians, arguing that people in their region just want to be left alone from meddlesome government bureaucrats. Out West, many more people are pro-choice on abortion than in the South. And Western Democrats regularly push to curb federal mandates, such as the test-heavy No Child Left Behind law.

Democrats also take advantage of environmental and land use issues: They favor improved access to public lands for hunting and fishing, which have a ripple effect in helping local economies. Environmentalism is becoming a major wedge issue against Republicans. Western voters last year supported several green-friendly ballot measures. Montanans refused (by a 58 percent-to-42 percent margin) to reverse a six-year-old ban on cyanide leach mining, for example. And Coloradans passed the Renewable Energy Amendment, which requires major public utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Gun control is the issue on which these Western Democrats break with their urban and coastal brethren. Govs. Schweitzer and Freudenthal have stressed their hunting credentials and made a point of distancing themselves from national Democratic leaders, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who back strict gun control measures.

To be sure, Democrats have a long way to go in translating victories for governor, Senate and state legislature into Electoral College gains for their presidential candidates. Wyoming gave Bush 68.9 percent of its vote last year, Idaho 68.4 percent and Utah a chart-topping 71.5 percent. These states are not worth Democrats' time, energy and valuable resources. But Montana (where Bush won with 58 percent), Colorado (where he garnered 52 percent), Arizona (where he earned 55 percent) and New Mexico (where he edged out Kerry 50 percent to 49 percent) are all, to varying degrees, viable Democratic pickup targets.

Democrats outside Washington, D.C., have begun to sense the opportunities.

For the rest of the article, go here.


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