SixFifty

lessons from America

Reimagining the west

I’ve just spent a long weekend in the mountain west.  Denver and its immediate environs aren’t really typical of the rest of Colorado or the other western states, but I got some kind of snapshot of politics in an area trending more Democratic; or at least purple.  Colorado has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Senator (hopefully soon two).  Brian Schweitzer, Dave Freudenthal, Bill Ritter, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Richardson are all Governors of western states.  Likewise Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Ken Salazar, Jeff Bingaman, Harry Reid and Ben Nelson are Democratic Senators, serving rural, western constituencies.

However, the perception amongst the media and voters is quite different.  As reported in a Daily Kos post earlier this month:

“Far too many voters out here in the middle, they’ve just come to accept without question that they and their neighbors are all Republicans, that their own senator or governor is just an anomaly, and that Democrats have been utterly irrelevant to their lives. The Democrats are those people out on the fringes (literally, on the coasts) of the country. Slowly, and increasingly, Democratic candidates across the region are working to change that mindset.”

The Democrats, because of past policies and strategies and personnel, have been portrayed as the party of urbanites, as opposed to the party of the rural west. As the Daily Kos article explains:

“It all came down to the Democrats wanting to take away your guns and your land to give it to some kind of bird or something that nobody had ever heard of. Once those beliefs about Democrats had been established, the rest was easy. Democrats were portrayed as only caring about urban America, and worse, wanting to impose “urban values” on the rest of the country.

The way the national Democrats, pre-Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy, approached the region left little for a Democrat out here to hang on to.  … Along the way, the Democrats that live in some places out here, who have lived out here all along, lost heart. They stopped meeting, stopped talking to each other, forgot that other Democrats even existed. They didn’t dare talk about politics in public settings. This was true even in the Clinton years, when prosperity reigned.

Since Schweitzer’s 2004 election, the purple has been spreading, and with it a growing conversation that reminds people that they don’t have to be a Republican. It’s a conversation spurred by having someone like Gary Trauner showing up on your doorstep. By having someone from the Scott Kleeb campaign call to ask what you’re concerned about in this election. By having a presidential candidate actually come to your state.”

The energetic campaigns in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada are reminding people who might not have seen a Democrat in decades that we don’t have horns and forked tails. And that we might just have some good ideas on how to fix the mess that one-party rule has gotten us into.”

We’ve had the same problems in the UK: where the Labour party is sometimes seen as as the party of metropolitan areas and the (former) industrial heartlands, and the Conservatives are the party of the rural and outer suburban areas.  And it can be very hard to change perceptions, even when the facts on the ground aren’t so black or white (or red and blue rather).   But the right candidates and the right strategy – and even the right kind of voting system – can have a real effect: the electoral map can be re-imagined.

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October 30, 2008 - Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , ,

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