The lay of the land out West
As far as the general election goes, I am assuming at this point that the contest will be between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. The outlines of the electoral map start with the 2000 and 2004 maps. The Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii look safely blue at this point both by recent polls and by recent history. The Rocky Mountain core of the GOP, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho looks decidedly red, as does Senator McCain’s home state of Arizona. Alaska is a long shot for Senator Obama, as is Montana, unless Governor Schweitzer is on the ticket. The swing states are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Polls go back and forth, but currently Colorado and New Mexico lean to the Democrats. Strong Democratic Senatorial candidates in those two states should help as well.
How important are those Western swing states? If the election were held today, the outcome would be very close, and Colorado and New Mexico would be crucial. Senator Kerry fell nineteen votes short of an electoral majority in 2004. Colorado and New Mexico have a combined fourteen electoral votes. Iowa, which borders Senator Obama’s Illinois and where Senator Obama is leading, has seven electoral votes. Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa plus the rest of the Kerry states yield a Democratic majority. Take away the swing state of New Hampshire, and you get an Electoral College tie, which would throw the vote into the House. A detailed analysis of the House races suggests that would lead to a Democratic victory in 2008. Add the swing state of Nevada (five electoral votes), and there is a bit more breathing room.
There remains much uncertainty. There are dozens of imponderable factors and unpredictable events that lie between now and November. One campaign or the other could end up sweeping the election. Given a sagging economy, an unpopular war, high gas prices, an unpopular Republican incumbent, and time for the Democratic Party to heal after a long and sometimes bitter nominating process, the wind should be at the Democrats’ back. Senator Obama is planning a fifty state campaign, as he should, both for the sake of the downballot races and the future of the party. With luck the election could be a Democratic blowout, in which case Alaska and Montana and neighboring North Dakota might be in play, but then again luck is not a plan, and the election could be very close.
So how can Senator Obama cement his narrow lead in the West? First, he has to clinch the nomination. By the only metric that officially counts, convention delegates, he is very close. Oregon recently gave Senator Obama a big boost. The Montana primary is June 3rd. With help from the superdelegates, Montana could put him over the top. Second, he has to reassure important constituencies. The Latino vote is very important in the Southwest, the region we have previously argued is where future elections will be decided and a region where Senator Clinton did well, partly on the strength of the Hispanic vote. Senator McCain, to his credit, is not anti-immigrant, so Democrats will need to pay careful attention to the Hispanic community. Recently, key Hispanic leaders in California have joined the Obama camp. Having Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico on the ticket would help in the Southwest, as would, of course, Senator Clinton. The Jewish community also needs reassuring. The Jewish vote is small, but significant in the Southwest, including California, Nevada, and Arizona. Having Mayor Bloomberg of New York on the ticket would help in that regard. Mayor Bloomberg would also reassure the business community and add economic expertise to the ticket. Those “hard working white voters” we have heard so much about lately need reassuring. Governor Schweitzer of Montana would be a good cultural fit, as would be John Edwards of North Carolina or Jim Webb of Virginia. If the party needs a woman on the ticket, in addition to Senator Clinton, Governor Napolitano, Senator Feinstein, and Senator Boxer, the last three from Southwestern states, come to mind. No one vice presidential nominee can satisfy all those diverse constituencies, but the campaign as a whole has to address all their concerns. The West, particularly the Southwest, will be a key battleground in 2008. Senator Obama and the Democratic Party need to look west.
Your Personal Note:
I'm with you 100% on Schweitzer. He'd be the perfect pick. The national ticket needs not one, but two galvanizers who can make campaign stops that whip up the crowds and help the down-ballot candidates. On that count, Brian Schweitzer is our party's secret weapon. He is a fantastic orator-- second only to Obama himself in the party-- and has a proven ability to resonate with Republican and independent voters. He can definitely help us pick up some Rocky Mountain states-- with him on the ticket, Colorado is ours, and the coattails of an Obama/Schweitzer ticket would undoubtedly pull Mark Udall over the finish line-- and we could pick off Nevada and New Mexico as well. Oregon would become more solidly blue (improving Jeff Merkley's chances of beating Gordon Smith,) as would Washington State (solidifying Gov. Gregoire's re-election chances). Furthermore, while I doubt we would win Arizona, we would at least force John McCain to fight us on his home turf, which would cost him time and resources, and give the national GOP a headache (ahh, schadenfreude!)
"But wait!" you say, "What about those rust-belt states that we need to win? Hell, what about New Hampshire and Maine?" To which I say, the aforementioned independent and Republican voters to whom Schweitzer has appealed have been rural and/or working-class citizens who don't want their jobs to be outsourced, are worried about the economy in the wake of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and disapprove of the way the war is going, but who want to keep their hunting rifles. You think there aren't voters like that in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania? Of course there are! Those are the very voters who swing those states, and Schweitzer is exactly the candidate to persuade them to vote Democratic.
As for New Hampshire and Maine, Schweitzer's fiercely independent, non-dogmatic persona will resonate quite well with the numerous independent voters who might otherwise consider McCain. The libertarian streak that runs through the Mountain West is not all that different from good old-fashioned Yankee independence. Furthermore, Schweitzer took a bold early stand against the Real ID act, which is a HUGE issue in Maine right now. Have Schweitzer make some campaign stops with Tom Allen and use that issue as the centerpiece and . . . who knows? We might just be able to unseat Susan Collins.
And Schweitzer's personal appeal as a real "straight-talker," not a flip-flopper with media sycophants like McCain, will appeal to voters of every background. He truly is everything that people were hoping McCain was in 2000-- minus the stale conservatism, and plus some bold progressive initiatives. OBAMA/SCHWEITZER '08!!!!!!!
Posted by: The Caped Composer | May 27, 2008 7:26:05 PM
Barbara Boxer?! You must really want Obama to lose if you want her on the ticket. Bleh!
Posted by: Joe | May 28, 2008 11:02:49 PM
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(and yes, we know that sometimes they're very, very wrong. Other times, they're right on.)