It's been fashionable of late (all the kids are doing it) for progressives to "look West" to save the Democratic Party. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has become the poster boy for believers in a Democratic resurgence via vast, mostly rectangularly shaped states that were carried by the Strong Leader in November. But there's also Ken Salazar, who picked up the Senate seat in Colorado. And in 2002, Democrat Dave Freudenthal won the governorship of Dick Cheney's very own Wyoming, despite Cheney appearing on behalf of the Republican candidate. Western Democrat rounds up and champions info on the West-as-savior movement, and is more or less dedicated to the proposition that Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada can settle a presidential election.
...winning Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, or even just New Mexico and Nevada, would have put Kerry over the top. But then, a win in either Florida or Ohio also would have ousted the Strong Leader. Conversely, if the Republicans had carried any two of Wisconsin, Minnesota or Michigan--all states that Kerry carried but where Rove thought Bush had a shot--Kerry would have lost, even with the four Western states in his pocket.
Which brings us to Hillary. Take your own trip to the electoral college calculator, and try to figure out which states Hillary can win that Kerry couldn't. Maybe its Florida, maybe its Ohio, maybe its both Florida and Ohio, in which case, whoop-ti-doo, Hillary gets to go home to the White House and wrestle with Delay's whackjobs in the House and a hostile Republican Senate that Reid looks uninterested in winning back.
Then, for kicks, try to figure out which states former congressman, energy secretary, United Nations ambassador and Hispanic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico might win that Kerry couldn't. Hmm, those four Western states look solid...Florida would be looking very, very good...Wait!...Wild optimism taking hold...can't resist...must suggest...Richardson might even be able to carry...no, never...yes, say it...Texas!
Please don't take the Washington Times seriously, they know less about politics west of the 100th meridian than me. This article is proof positive of an east coast bias to politics, similar to the east coast bias of college football that always seems to land a Big (L)East team in the top 10. Thanks to Matt Singer for the link:
Only two Republicans face the electorate in 2006 after winning their preceding Senate contests with less than 51 percent, and both (Conrad Burns of Montana and Jim Talent of Missouri) will be running in Bush states and likely facing much weaker opposition. (emphasis mine)
Last time I checked, five Dems are itching to get into the fight with ol' Mr. Burns, and arguably, they are much stronger candidates, one of them already proven he can win a Montana-wide race.
The Washington Times seems to be stuck on the logic that if Bush won a state in 2004, that his party's Senate contender would have a good chance at winning in 2006. This is pretty simplistic logic.
Back in January, David Hill wrote at thehill.com about our recent wins in Colorado and Montana, pointing out that they might not be all we've been hyping it to be. if Hill is a Republican pollster (a Texan at that), so his piece has some interesting insights on Western Democrats, because its important to reflect on criticism.
His first point, that aside from a tinge of environmentalism, Western Democrats avoided the trappings of eastern liberalism, is a bit off base. The Western Democrats that were most successful didn't hang on to eastern, liberal, national environmentalism. Rather, they took on the greenness that a Westerner would like. Environmentalism so people can continue using the land, rather than separating people from it, most appeals to Westerners. This is a subtle difference for a Texan/easterner to pick up, but environmentalism for the environment's sake and environmentalism for the sake of us and our communities is very different from the nationally-based environmentalism that the Democrats have been beholden to.
Hill says another reason for success in 2002 and 2004 is that Democrats simply recruited better candidates:
Though I never see any public acknowledgement of the fact, Democrats simply recruited better candidates for many of the upset contests.
By “better,” I don’t mean candidates with more beguiling issue platforms. No, a superior candidate has better people skills and is just more likable. A better candidate also has a better work ethic, knocks on more doors, raises more money or writes more of his own checks. Candidate recruitment is a lost art in some climes, but it’s essential to electoral success.
This is a pretty heartening assessment for me, because it speaks to a level of party know-how in the region, to put up better candidates than dominant Republicans. If the Dems can find good candidates within their ranks and convince them to run, the Democratic Party in the West can't be in that bad of shape.
It also speaks to Coyote Factor of Western Democrats, as coined by Cecil Andrus:
"(Idaho) has elected Republicans so dumb they need to be watered, but any Democrat who hopes to stick around must have the adaptive skills of a coyote."
If Democrats have to be smarter and better to survive in the West, then we'll always have better candidates than Republicans.
Hill's next point is harder for me to grasp.
These new voters often don’t share the conservative values and issue agenda of natives. Two prominent groups of newcomers — Californians and Hispanic immigrants — best typify this trend. There is no denying that in-migration is changing the Western electorate, but the numbers and geographical distribution of new voters cannot alone explain the surprising 2002 and 2004 results.
Even if population shifts did account for the Democrats’ success, how happy could Democrats elsewhere be about this? There are only a limited number of California liberals available for export. There surely aren’t enough available to reverse the Democrats’ sorry situation in big states such as Texas and Florida.
Of course, he's a pollster and I'm not, but I disagree with these points.
He seem to be describing two factors. One, the rise of El Norte as a separate political region in the West, against the Coasts and especially Sagebrush. But, I'm not sure how many people are moving from Texas and Florida to the western portion of El Norte. From my understanding, El Norte is growing in Florida, south Texas and the Southwest all the way up to Colorado. I don't think western El Norte is stealing from Texas and Florida.
Also, the urbanization of the Sagebrush. This is even harder for me to take in. There may not be an endless stream of liberals from California and other parts of the country to send to moderately large cities in the interior West. But I think as these cities grow, from immigrants from both inside and outside of Sagebrush, they are more likely to vote Democratic simply because they are urban areas.
The Western Myth, which as served Republicans well in rural areas of the West, isn't believed so much in more urban, growing counties. Democrats, with more of their policies aimed at what government can do, as opposed to ending government, are better poised to pick up the urban Sagebrush vote. These urban centers will continue to grow, and with congressional and legislative district reform proportioning Western representation better in the past 30 years, these cities will grow in influence.
His last point points to an eventual swing back to Republicans in a few years, that whatever Party is in favor at the current time will eventually be seen as the establishment, and out of favor party, the party of the underdog.
The Rocky Mountain Democrats also tout their wooing of swing voters, particularly in small towns and rural areas. Watch the language carefully in these explanations. Some correctly identify these swing voters as “unaffiliated” (the official designation in Colorado) rather than independent. There is a big difference between an “unaffiliated” voter and one who’s “independent.” The former is more of a populist outsider, while the latter is more of an intellectual insider.
Westerners are cognitively closer to unaffiliated. Rural voters in parts of the West resent the power of insiders whether they be in Denver or Washington, D.C.
So Western Democrats, enjoy your time in the statehouse. Now that you’re the insiders, they’ll soon be coming for you.
In Montana, where Schweitzer was able to paint his opponent with the "bought" Judy Martz brush, this at least seemed to be the case. This point is an especially good one to take to heart. One of the problems Republicans have been facing in the West is that they are seen as the establishment party. It would be hard for a dominant party not to be seen this way, but where they've really screwed up is when they put on in several layers, the trappings of power. This is where you end up with Governor Martz.
The State of Columbia South Carolina, throw them onto the stack of folks that don't get it.
In addition to the South, Fowler said the party has written off the Rocky Mountain states and “religious” voters.
Let this be a warning to the Southerners flaunting themselves at the regional caucuses, touting their 50-state strategies and "little bit like greens without the cornbread” homespun humor. When you make it out to Sacramento next Saturday, leave your ideas for winning back the South at home, because I for one, don't want to hear them.
The West, for one simple thing, ain't a bunch of Southern Baptists running around with confederate flags on the back of our pickups. Our racists idiots prefer compounds, assault rifles and swastikas to burning crosses and the like.
I could go on and on about how the South is different.
When Democrats talk about a 50-state strategy, they shouldn't be talking about all of the areas in red on the map as being the same place. The Midwest, the South and the West each have reasons why Democrats aren't winning their nationally and very good reasons why some Dems are winning locally.
In the South it might be because George W. Bush has a friend in Jesus and John Kerry is going to hell. In Montana, it may be because it just didn't look right, that shotgun and Kerry together like that. The shotgun and Brian Schweitzer made way more sense.
Emmett O'Connell | January 16, 2005 | Comment on This Post (5 so far)
Las Vegas City Life has an interesting piece on what they call an internet campaign against Harry Reid before he quickly secured the minority leaders position. From my point of view, the entire process seemed to be a non-fight to begin with. I was just glad to see a Westerner pick up the sword so quickly, even though his coronation was a bit fixed.
But, why did internet commentators, and otherwise, not want Reid in charge. Why did they champion more East Coast/industrial Midwest progressives that would speak for the anti-Iraq, pro-choice base of the party? The campaign against Reid is an example of what was wrong with the campaign of lowered expectations, run from our base of the Kerry campaign.
That Reid had just won a dominate victory in a state carried by Bush and won't have to run again until 2010 was lost on most. The most damning thing they could say was that he was inarticulate, wasn't liberal enough, and came from a red state. Nevada would only be a red state in comparison to the liberal northeast.
Reid, and other Western Democrats, are living proof that the Interior West can be so called blue states if the Democratic Party reaches out beyond the population losing East Coast/ind. Midwest. Electing Reid is a small step in that direction.
Thanks to leftinthewest.com for the tip.
I didn't pick this up the first time I read "Top Billings," but it was something that George Ochenski didn't:
The beauty of the access issue was three-fold. First, it helped Schweitzer make inroads with the constituency of outdoorsmen that is normally Democrat-averse.
Second, it let us speak to both left-leaning environmentalists, who wanted public lands and wildlife herds maintained, and right-leaning outdoorsmen, who wanted a place to recreate and a steady population of game to hunt. This was especially important because we did not want to alienate the enviros who would be out in force on election day to vote against an initiative to permit cyanide leach mining. Stern, who had a deft sense of strategy, once pointed out, “Hunters can be some of the biggest environmentalists around, even though they don't think of themselves that way and would never in a million years label themselves that.”
Third, it was an issue that would ultimately help us tie Brown in Republican-leaning Gallatin County, one of the fastest growing counties in America. Like other Rocky Mountain exurbs, Gallatin had seen an influx of new residents looking to live in an area with outdoor recreation. Targeting these new residents and making them Democratic voters early were key not only to the election at hand, but also for building a majority for the long haul.
Ochenski, in his column, goes on for several paragraphs, pointing out leaders of the Montana environmental movement that are also hunters and fishers. Such as:
...John Gatchell, the conservation director for the Montana Wilderness Association, goes out every year to bag his deer or elk. Chef Boy Ari, the Indy’s food columnist, munches on antelope, whitetail and mule deer that he brought down and processed with his own hands. Indy photographer Chad Harder bagged his whitetail buck on opening day and is now off chasing elk in southwest Montana’s extended season.
And, so on and so on. Ochenski's point is that in Montana, and I would expand that across the West, real environmentalists are people that feel a real, every day connection to the environment. These are people that see the places worth preserving as being not only a nice back drop to their lives, a part of their personal well being and quality of life, but as human habitat. They would have a hard time living, literally, if timber companies were to move in and clear cut over a stream, or WalMart paved over a wetland.
Ochenski does this because he reads that David Sirota is drawing a hard line between hunters, who might vote like environmentalists, but would never call themselves that, and actual environmentalists. And, Sirota seems to think that if a hunter would walk into a bar and admit himself to be an environmentalist, he might as well wip out his PETA and ACLU card.
With the hunters and fishers I know, it would take them about two sentences in a conversation to admit to being environmentalists. I know this isn't how people react to political campaign messages, but the difference between Johnny Deer Hunter and Bobby Suburu Outback with the Kayak, isn't that much.
Over the DLC/Progressive Policy Institute, Will Marshall has just issued his "Heartland Strategy" for taking back the White House.
Marshall re-discovers the West (as everyone in D.C. is doing these days) while simultaneously pooh-poohing the notion of a Western strategy.
Some Democrats have called for a less ambitious strategy that writes off large chunks of red America, specifically the South and the Great Plains. They would concentrate instead on the Southwest, with its large Latino population and burgeoning metropolitan centers. Their electoral math works, but just barely.
Marshall's right, in one sense: we can't win with just the West and the Blue States. Sure. Duh.
But, he just doesn't get it. A Western strategy isn't just a geographical argument. It's a cultural one. As I argued in the kick-off manifesto:
In the mountains and ranchlands of the West, there are Democrats who understand real America. Out here, far from the nation's capital, there are Democrats who understand skepticism of the federal government. Out here, Americans will find Democrats comfortable in jeans and boots. In the West, we can find Democrats able to speak plainly in the language of real America. ... And in all 50 states, a Western candidate would signal a fresh start.
Sure, the Marshall Plan includes a new orientation on cultural issues, but the problem isn't the cultural issue. Rather, it's culture. The national standard bearers for our party are too Eastern, too prep-school, too brie and chablis, too damn Washington D.C.
Give me a candidate in boots and jeans, a candidate who speaks plain English, a candidate who can connect with real Americans... and I'll show you a candidate who not only wins the West, but in West Virginia, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and even Virginia.
From the Chicago Maroon:
Yet there is one question that we can answer with little reservation: Does Harry Reid have the vision that the Democrats sorely lack and so desperately desire? Unfortunately, he does not. The future of the Democratic party does not lie with a conservative grand-father from a desert, Western state. This is not Senator Reid?s fault. But we would be kidding ourselves to think that he is or has the answer to that question. Nevertheless, what the Democrats need most is a unifying vision and a narrative, one that will let America claim to know where the party stands and one that will let the party reclaim America. And Harry Reid does not have that.
Therefore, we Democrats can remain confident that Minority Leader Reid will lead that minority with tactical skill, but we won't find that vital vision that could lead the Democratic party out of minority status and into electoral success. For that, we?ll just have to keep looking.
In arguing against Harry Reid as some sort of leader/symbol of the Democratic Party, Andrew Hammond makes a very valid point about the narrative of the party. Harry Reid may not be the walking embodiment of our story. But Andrew is too quick to seemingly dismiss the entire West, implying that grand-father from a Western desert state couldn't possibly be the soul of the party. By dismissing Reid, is Andrew thinking of Barack Obama?
Harry Reid may not have what it takes to expand beyond the role of Senate leader to soul status, but Western Democrats do.
One of the few reasons I voted for I-872 this year was a personal vote against "safe seats" in the state legislature and Congress. I don't like safe seats. What they are doing to our government is driving state legislatures and congress to the fringes. Elected officials are abandoning the middle because they don't need to be there anymore to be elected in so called "safe seats."
This is one of the many reasons that the political parties argued so strongly against the Top Two primary. In many districts across the state it would mean two Democrats or two Republicans would face off in the general. That, though, is the fault of the political parties in the first place for making a deal with the devil in the first place and drawing so many safe districts.
I know it is impossible for every district to be competitive, Olympia will likely represented by a Democrat for the rest of my life. But, the majority of districts don't need to be "safe." If in two years there are singular party choices in the general election that is the fault of the parties in the first place.
The United States has a winner take all system, generally. From city hall, to the state house, Congress and the Presidency, only one person can win any given election. And, the President, whoever sits in the White House, is the President of the entire United States, not just Red or Blue states. Brian Baird is the congressman of the entire Washington 3rd congressional district, not just Olympia, Tumwater and Vancouver.
Brian Schweitzer is the governor of the entire state of Montana.
My point is that where ever someone is elected, they tend to represent the values and concerns of their entire constituency. Not all the time I know, but usually the more competitive the congressional district (for example) the more moderate the congressperson will be.
The Stranger makes it sound like by simply flexing the urban muscle and building our base, Democrats can push over the rural areas. We know that is not true, the Stranger even employs some funny math to attempt to prove their point:
- 226 Americans total (thought there was more than that)
- 85 million in "cities" (the muscle)
- 55 million in "the country" (the enemy)
- That still leaves 86 million people in neither cities nor the country. This must be the exburbs I've been hearing all about.
The last thing we should do it start seeing people from outside our district, our city or our state as being "the other." We're stuck together, we're in the same boat, we have shared destiny and some other cliches.
We know the Republicans are wrong. We know they do not represent all of America. They have played the game of limiting the field by throwing the wedges between the people. Doing what the Stranger suggests is literally joining the Republicans on the low road. Even if we can win like that, I don't want to play that game.
While we won't try to be all things to all people, we should at least try to be more to everyone.
Emmett O'Connell | November 17, 2004 | Comment on This Post (0 so far)
Don't be ethnic: Emphasizing your ethnic roots plays well in the East, but not here.
We like to think that the West was built by blue-eyed rugged individualist pioneers. When you talk about your roots, you remind us that most of the West was built by immigrants, fresh off the boat, who got ten cents an hour for backbreaking twelve-hours days of mining coal or smelting ore. We don't want to think about this.
The winning of the West ought to be simple for any presidential candidate. All he has to do is pay homage to our myths. What he actually does won't matter. Ronald Reagan knows that, and if Michael Dukakis is as smart as people say he is, maybe he'll figure it out before November.
I don't know how much of this, or really any of it, applies to today. Maybe some of it if you're talking about the deepest and darkest of Sagebrush, but I don't really think it applies much to more urban Sagebrush or El Norte.
Either way, it's a look back, and its funny.