The Big Strategy
The networks have called it. Senator McCain has made a very gracious concession speech. We will digest the numbers in the coming days, but tonight is an historic night for America. Congratulations and best wishes to President-Elect Barack Obama!
With the Front Range as a backdrop for the Democratic National Convention, this is the second of a multi-part series on Colorado. It may help the questions Why Denver and Why now? One answer is demographics.
There is one clear reason the Democratic convention [is being] held in Denver: Colorado is ground zero in a crucial shift in the partisan balance of power that has the potential to restore Democratic dominance in presidential elections and bring an end to the conservative era of the past 40 years.
The demographic trends here and in New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona all tilt the playing field in favor of the Democrats and threaten traditional Republican strength in the mountain states of the west. There are similar, but not as strong, trends in such Northwest mountain states as Montana and North Dakota.
One reason these [Intermountain] states are increasingly “in play” is the rapid population growth among two key demographic segments—Hispanics and white college graduates—and the concomitant decline of the white working class.
In Colorado, these trends could have their strongest impact in the “battle of the suburbs” within the Denver metro (50 percent of state population), where Democrats need to expand their 2004 margin and the GOP needs to hold the line, and in the “battle of the metros” elsewhere, which pits the Democratic-trending Fort Collins metro, now the fourth largest in the state against the smaller GOP-trending metros of Grand Junction and fast-growing Greeley. Overall, the GOP will be looking to maintain their strong support among the declining white working class, the key to their electoral prospects. The Democrats will be relying on white college graduates, who are rapidly growing and have been moving toward the Democrats, especially since 2000 and Hispanics, who have been driving the growth of the minority vote and vote heavily Democratic.
More on the implications of this in a future post.
Here at Western Democrat, we have previously made the case for Bill Richardson for President or Vice President. But consider another prominent Western Democrat for the currently open position of Democratic nominee for the Vice Presidency, namely Brian Schweitzer, Governor of Montana.
The vice presidential nominee has four roles: to help the ticket win in November, to serve as a loyal part of the new administration, to assume the presidency should disaster strike, and, under happy circumstances, to lead the party eight years hence. Governor Schweitzer is an attractive candidate for all four tasks.
Governor Schweitzer would be a great candidate. He is the popular Democratic governor of a red to purple state who knows how to appeal to Republicans and Independents. He would reinforce the Obama message of turning the page on the red/blue divide of the last decade. He has a natural, folksy charm that would play well on the national stage. He is from way outside Washington in a year when voters are hungry for change in Washington. He does not play into the GOP stereotype of an out of touch Eastern liberal, yet he effectively champions Democratic issues such as education and healthcare. He does not have a trail of potentially controversial votes on wedge issues in the Senate. He is old enough to be successful and experienced both in the private and public sectors, including international experience, while young enough to be a vigorous campaigner. He understands national issues that are particularly important to the West such as energy and water, the West being rich in energy, but chronically short of water. He could help swing crucial states in the West. Montana has only three electoral votes, but he would automatically put his state in play. Neighboring North Dakota is potentially swingable and has three electoral votes. In the rest of the West, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, with a combined nineteen electoral votes, will be critical battlegrounds, and having a Westerner on the ticket would help. The sum total is the equivalent of swinging one big state, which is about the best that a vice presidential nominee can hope to do. Moreover, Governor Schweitzer would be a reassuring choice for a number of wavering constituencies all across the country that the party needs in November.
Governor Schweitzer could serve in an Obama administration without carrying any baggage from the long contest for the nomination. He would bring executive experience to the new administration. He could represent Western and rural constituencies inside a White House with an urban and Midwestern President. And though his easy and down-to-earth demeanor tends to hide it, his successes in life and politics are the natural product of a first-rate mind. Of course, only Senator Obama can tell us if their two personalities are a good working fit.
Given all these assets, I would feel very comfortable with a President Schweitzer should he ascend to the nation’s highest office, ideally eight and a half years hence, after having served President Obama loyally and well.
Leo Brown | June 5, 2008 | Comment on This Post (5 so far)
As we recently posted, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada are shaping up as key battleground states for the 2008 election. Not surprisingly, and as Kari just noted, both Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain are already campaigning in these three states.
From the LA Times:
The top Democratic and Republican presidential contenders, Barack Obama and John McCain, brought their campaigns to the deserts of the American West on Monday, kicking off what is shaping up to be a fierce contest for the region in November.
The majestic vistas and suburban subdivisions of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico were among the most contested territories of 2000 and 2004, although they were often overshadowed by the struggle for electoral votes in Florida and Ohio.
"There are a limited number of possibilities to change the electoral map for Democrats," said Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic strategist. "These three states figure prominently."
"This game is on," said Joe Monahan, an independent political analyst in New Mexico who said Monday's visits would probably be the first of many by the presidential candidates in the months to come.
From the AP:
[Senator] Obama is signaling, even before the Democratic primary formally wraps up, that he intends to fight this fall for Western states that narrowly went Republican four years ago.
New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado aren't definitely Democratic blue or Republican red. Instead, they're known as "purple states" by political junkies.
"We're going to fight as hard as we can in these states. We want to send the message now that we're going to go after them and I expect to win them," the Illinois senator said Monday.
"I'm absolutely confident that we're going to do very well west out here because people out west are independent-minded and are going to look at whether or not over the last eight years the country is better off under Republican rule. I think they're going to conclude they're not and they want fundamental change, something that I'm offering and John McCain is not," [Senator Obama] said.
[New Mexico Governor Bill] Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, called the three states "fertile ground" for Obama, particularly if he courts Hispanic voters with Spanish-language ads, personal appearances and attention to their concerns, such as immigration reform.
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.
In a match up with John McCain, he carries California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington in the West and 280 electoral votes overall. This after he had the kitchen sink thrown at him.
Hillary, by contrast, would only carry California, Hawaii, and New Mexico in the West and 276 electoral votes overall.
Polls can change, but the pattern is still strong. Look West, Democrats.
From the beginning of Western Democrat, it was recognized that the West offered the Democratic Party a way out of a recurring pattern of electoral defeat.
The primary season reaches another critical junction this Tuesday. Democrats looking to win in November would do well to visit 270toWin.com and look at the state polls. Poll numbers can be fickle things, but the overall impression is clear: Barack Obama would run much better in the West than Hillary Clinton. The margin is, in fact, the difference between victory and defeat in November.
Consider six states in the West. The first three were won by Kerry, and are must wins in 2008. The second three were lost my Kerry, but would have put him in the White House had he won all three.
The first three are California, Oregon, and Washington. According to recent state polls, Obama would win California by 27%, Oregon by 1% and Washington by 17%. Hillary would win California by 19%, lose Oregon by 3%, and tie in Washington.
The second three are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Obama would will all three by 7%, tie to 15% (two polls), and 12%, respectively. Hillary would lose Colorado by 14% and lose in Nevada by 9% (no recent poll from this source for New Mexico).
Leo Brown | March 2, 2008 | Comment on This Post (3 so far)
David Sirota hits it right on the head in his latest syndicated column. Go give it a read.
The fairy tales are endless. Congressional debates imply that the West's most precious resources are oil and gas. But to many locals, the area's most valuable commodity is water.
Commentators have claimed Bill Clinton's 1992 victory in four Western states is not only proof of his political genius, but also of the region's devotion to Clintonism--an ideology that sold out the middle class with initiatives like NAFTA. Somehow, everyone forgets that Ross Perot used a populist indictment of both parties' corporate sycophancy to take 1.4 million Western votes from George H. W. Bush.
But perhaps the biggest misconception is the belief that the West is a strange, Siberia-like realm--square-state "flyover" country separate from the rest of America.
As David says, the candidate who show the best understanding of the West, its culture and its issues, will be the one who does the best on February 5.
Over a year ago, we speculated on a Richardson Obama or an Obama Richardson ticket. What I wrote then still looks good to me. Of course, it has been clear for some time that Richardson would not be at the top of the ticket. The Richardson campaign never caught fire, and Governor Richardson wisely ended his campaign. Obama-Richardson could still be a viable ticket in the West and Midwest, but will it happen?
What concerns me and what should concern a lot of Western Democrats is that the GOP may be poised to nominate a Western candidate who can reach across party lines (McCain), while the Democratic Party may be poised to nominate (again) an uncharismatic Easterner who would have difficulty reaching across party lines and who has little appeal in much of the purple West (Clinton). Hillary is a known quantity, and her negative numbers in the West will be very hard to change.
Recent polls in Colorado, Nevada and Arizona have found similar distaste for Clinton.
She's carrying huge negatives out here," said Floyd Ciruli, an independent Colorado pollster who said Democratic congressional candidates would have to highlight their differences with the national party to be successful next year. "It's that liberal East Coast image that is so hard to sell in the West."
One key advisor to a prominent Democratic congressional candidate, who asked not be to identified discussing tensions within the party, went even further. "It's a disaster for Western Democrats," he said. "It keeps me up at night."
That’s what ABC News sees in the West. Excerpts:
If Democrats' hopes are realized in 2008 and they win Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, they pick off a total of 24 electoral votes -- more than Ohio, more than Pennsylvania.There are more interesting thoughts from ABC News on this topic, including the suggestion that Hillary Clinton might not be the right person to fulfill Democratic hopes in the Intermountain West.
That may have seemed a pipe dream a few years ago. But Democratic gains in the Inner Mountain states have party strategists drooling. In 2000, these eight states had not one Democratic governor among them. Today there are five.
If a Democratic presidential candidate can tap into what Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano have tapped into, the race would clearly not just come down to Ohio or Florida as it did in 2004 and 2000.