Blue-ing the West
"The attitude to livability, attention to riverfront trails and parks, and downtown revitalization is clearly something associated with Democratic leadership," asserts Daniel Kemmis, a senior fellow at the University of Montana's Center for the Rocky Mountain West, as well as a coordinator for the organization Democrats for the West, dedicated to boosting the party's fortunes in the region, and a onetime mayor of Missoula. "Over time, the people who are moving to the West and who stay here because they like the feel of these communities, it's starting to sink in that Democrats seem to deliver more effectively on these issues than Republicans."
Hoping to capitalize on the new Electoral College calculations, Western Democrats are flexing their muscle as never before. To boost Denver's chances at hosting the party's '08 convention, the city's convention bid team, as well as Mayor John Hickenlooper--himself a transplant, with a petroleum-exploration and small-business background, from the environs of Philadelphia and then Connecticut--has proposed something unprecedented: that while the convention itself would be held in the Mile High City, the entire Rocky Mountain West would sponsor it. The convention would be billed not as a Denver affair but as a Rocky Mountain West Convention.
"I've talked to Napolitano in Arizona, Governor Richardson, [Wyoming] Governor [Dave] Freudenthal and [Montana Governor Brian] Schweitzer. Each has been very enthusiastic," says Hickenlooper, who recently made a splash by working with the thirty-two mayors who govern the cities of the greater Denver metropolitan area to kickstart the nation's largest public-transit expansion, 119 miles of light-rail lines throughout the urban region. "A Western convention says something. Democrats in the West have a strong sense of self-responsibility. A Western Democrat is more cautious about ceding power to Washington over our environment. We believe in local control, in the inherent value of open space. We are in many ways pro-business, trying to create opportunity for people, cutting red tape, cutting bureaucracy, making government more efficient."
Democratic politicians throughout the region have similarly come together to urge the DNC to move Western caucuses and primaries forward. Nevada will now hold a caucus sandwiched between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and momentum is growing in Western policy circles for the creation of a regional super-primary, to be held early in the candidate-selection process.
Daniel Kemmis believes that as many as six or seven Western states will sign up for early primaries. "There's an increased interest in the idea of a Western presidential primary, trying to coordinate many Western states and have them hold their caucuses and primaries on the same day," he says. Others are slightly more cautious. "You'd now have four Western states in play at the very start of the nominating schedule," estimates consultant Mike Stratton. "If the candidates have to come out West early and through '07 and into the nominating process of '08; if you have them traipsing out West, they're going to have to start talking Western issues: water, land, energy, conservation, quality of life. Then the balance of Western independent voters here have a reason to start looking to the Democratic Party and its nominee."
How would Gary Hart advise Howard Dean on this, as the Western strategy the Coloradan advocated as a young man finally comes of age? "Be very strong on environmental issues," he argues. "That doesn't mean give over the agenda to the Sierra Club, but to say on climate change, transportation, urban pollution issues, you've got to be very strong and lay out an agenda." Above all, he says, start speaking with Westerners and not at them. "We're still a nation of regions and mannerisms. You have to be able to put people at ease, speak in a way they understand and accept."