First the good news, courtesy of the NY Times: “Look at these numbers,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer, pointing to the annual Montana State University survey showing him with a job approval rating of 69 percent – 27 points higher than President Bush in Montana and 21 points above the Republican senator, Conrad Burns, who is up for re-election next year. “People seem to like what we’re doing.”
“Across the vast inland sea of Republican red, in states like Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arizona, other Democratic governors are soaring at the same high level of approval in the polls.” So Democrats can win in rural red states in the West.
Now for the sniping: “It’s only when I get lumped in with John Kerry and Howard Dean that my party affiliation becomes an issue,” said Governor Freudenthal, one of eight children from a farm in Thermopolis, Mont. “Stick to the kitchen issues – health care, jobs and fairness – and stick to the facts.” Funny, didn’t Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt (and a helluva lot of Democrats) do just that in 2004? What are these folks talking about? I know I know, a lot of rural Democrats have a hard time getting along with suburban and urban Democrats. Lest we forget many urban and suburban Democrats are just as guilty of sniping at rural America.
But before anybody starts drawing up “master plans” about how to win in the West (or bemons the state of Democrats in the West) let’s just keep our facts straight: Democrats are already doing a darn good job in the West. For our purposes the West is made up of 13 states: The four blue states of Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California. The 6 red states of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. Finally there are the 3 purple states of Nevada, New Mexico, and (formerly solid red but now purple) Colorado.
So how did Democrats do in the West in 2004? Of a possible 124 electoral votes, Kerry won 77 EVs (62.1% of the total). In the total Western popular vote, Kerry won 49.8% to Bush’s 48.7% (1.5% went to Nader and other parties). In the past four decades the red states in the West have gained 5 EVs, while California has gained 8 EVs in the past decade alone.
Washington state has also increased in electoral votes. Meanwhile, Colorado was the only state to be listed as a solid Republican state in 2000 by both parties but listed as a tossup state by both parties in 2004. Kerry’s 47.0% of the Colorado vote (to Bush’s 51.7%) was the highest Democrat total in Colorado since 1948 (except for the LBJ landslide of 1964). In the meantime Democrats control a majority of the US House seats in the West (53-98) a higher number than before Election 2004. Kerry’s percentages in California (54.2%) Oregon (51.3%) and Washington (52.8%) were all better than Clinton or Gore ever got. Lest you worry about Hawaii, Kerry still won 54% in that state last year.
Only in governorships and US Senate seats do Dems trail (7-6 in governors, 15-11 among Senators). If the 2 Democratic states of California and Hawaii had Democratic governors, the Dems would have an 8-5 advantage here. As for the Senate, we have good shots in Montana, Nevada, and (maybe) Arizona in 2006. Win 2 of those seats and it’s goodbye to the GOP lead in Western Senate delegation.
Bottom line: Sure there’s some room for growth out west, but if your worried about a region Democrats are hurting in, don’t look West young man!