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Monday, April 18, 2005

Democrats Winning the West

Posted by Bob Brigham

If there is an opening for Democrats, several political analysts say, it is in the social issues that animate the Republican Party base but collide with the Western ethos of live and let live.

That is one of the key lines from the LA Times article, Democrats Push for a New Frontier. Recently, some Democrats have argued for hopping on the theocrat bandwagon as part of a bizarre strategy to tie Democrats' future to the south. As a member of the reality-based community, I'll look out West, as the LA Times reminds us:

In a year of crushing disappointment, Colorado was a bright spot for the Democrats in 2004. Here on the front porch of the Rocky Mountains, the party gained a House seat, elected a U.S. senator and won control of the state Legislature for the first time in 44 years. [...]

In addition to the party's strong 2004 showing in the Colorado Legislature, Democrats elected a governor in Montana and took control of the House and Senate in Helena, the first time they won either chamber in a decade.

The party also now has governors in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Overall, Democrats gained 31 legislative seats across the West in 2004, but the party continued to lose ground in the South.

Want a Democrat to win in 2008?

At the presidential level, the West accounted for six of the 10 states where Democratic nominee John F. Kerry topped Al Gore's 2000 performance.

New Mexico and Nevada — which President Bush carried by less than 1 percentage point and 2.6 percentage points, respectively — had two of the four tightest contests in November.

The way some are trying to win in the south is mutually exclusive with winning out west. For me, the smart choice is clear:

Now, more than a century after newspaperman Horace Greeley passed on his famous advice — "Go West, young man" — Democrats are paying new heed to those words.

The South is increasingly Republican. Democratic states of the East and Midwest are steadily losing electoral clout to the Sun Belt. So a number of Democrats are urging their party to emulate generations of pioneers who sought their fortune in the rugged landscape across the Great Divide.

For a long time, Democrats out west suffered from a message that was screwed up by city-folk. Now that those stereotypes have finally started to fall, I hope that western Democrats won't have the burden replaced with a screwed up message by southerners.

Democrats need to talk in a "Western voice" that resonates with voters and lays to rest old stereotypes, said Pat Williams, a Montana congressman for 18 years until retiring in 1997.

Williams, a fellow at the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a policy center at the University of Montana, said when it came to environmental issues, he "seldom mentioned the word 'wilderness' because that denoted the national government setting aside huge pieces of a state. Instead, I always talked about clean places to fish, hunt and camp."

Gov. Schweitzer is blunter still. Seated in the governor's modest office in Helena, he is the very image of Western informality in bluejeans and a loosely fitted bolo tie.

"Don't dress like a lawyer," he counsels his fellow Democrats. "Don't talk like a lawyer. And be prepared to go out and meet people and answer their questions straight. Don't wiggle around and sort of be with them and sort of be against them…. I think most people don't spend the time to figure what all the issues are all about. They want to know you have a heart and a backbone."

If you are even slightly interested in the future of the Democratic Party, I suggest you go read this.

Posted at 08:46 AM in Democrats | Technorati