Demos' Western agenda: Add blue

Published January 12, 2007 12:24 am
By holding its national convention in Denver next year, the party hopes to build on election gains
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WASHINGTON - Hoping to solidify a growing base in the Mountain West, Democrats will hold their 2008 national convention in Denver for the first time in a century.

The decision is meant to highlight the region as the new frontier in American politics, and Democrats are optimistic the convention will bring renewed momentum to their party in the West, even in stubbornly Republican Utah.

The area for years was dominated by Republicans, though Democrats have recently made impressive inroads. Democrats now control a majority of the region's governorships and, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, picked up seats in five of the eight legislatures in 2006.

“Given the West's winning history, it's fitting that the next president of the United States will be nominated in Denver in 2008 and will be introduced to the American people in the Rocky Mountains,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told reporters.

Dean's choice of Denver over New York City for the convention will bring about 35,000 people to the city in August 2008, along with the attention of the nation for four days.

It will be the first time a party has held a convention in the region since 1908 when the Democrats last huddled in Denver to choose their party's presidential nominee.

Republican officials announced earlier this year they plan to host their convention in Minneapolis, Minn., in September 2008.

Utah Democratic Chairman Wayne Holland says the Denver pick bodes well for the party.

"We're excited about it," Holland said. "With the Nevada early [presidential] primary, with our presidential primary for Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, this thing with Denver is the Triple Crown for Western Democrats."

Seven years ago, there were no Democratic governors in the eight Rocky Mountain States. Today, there are five, in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Turned red by the GOP landslide of 1994, the states of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico now are blue with Democratic majorities in their congressional delegations.

The Democrats' decision is “an important acknowledgment that the West is really where the action is,” says Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. “The Republicans are writing off the coasts and the Democrats are writing off the South, but everyone seems to acknowledge that the West is in play.”

Well, most of it.

Utah, a reliably red state for decades, still reigns as a refuge for Republicans and no one predicts a political shift any time soon.

“They'll have to do a lot more for Utah than bring a convention to Denver,” says Allan J. Lichtman, professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of The Keys to the White House.

Joe public isn't going to vote Democratic because the party comes near his home, Lichtman says, and “You're not going to win Colorado because you come to Denver.”

Still, Utah Democrats are heartened that their national party is focusing on their brand of independent politician and observers say it may bring change in the future.

“In the long term, it will have an impact in Utah,” Jowers says. “Because it seems to be the Democrats acknowledging that the West requires a Democrat that's different than one on the East Coast. The more support they give that type of Democrat in Utah, the more the West can rise again for Democrats.”

Jeff Hartley, the Utah Republican Party's executive director, isn't too worried about maintaining GOP dominance.

“We Westerners are an ornery breed,” Hartley says. “We're not easily swayed by showhorses. It will be a nice PR opportunity for them, but long term with the issues facing the politicians in the West, it'll take more than a nice convention to maintain the momentum they picked up in the last election cycle.”

Economically, Utah may not see much of a bump from the Denver convention either.

“Traditionally convention goers tend to stick close to their destination and don't tend to stray too far out of their convention cities,” says Tracie Cayford, deputy director for the Utah Office of Tourism. The office doesn't plan to market to the convention attendees, though Cayford says Democrats, Republicans and independents are always welcome.

Denver had faced challenges in its bid to host the convention, mainly raising the $55 million required by the DNC and proving it has enough hotel rooms. But party officials say they are satisfied Denver can rise to the occasion.

Mayor John Hickenlooper says the Denver convention won't be just about Denver.

“There is a different way of doing things out here in the West,” he said, noting that after elections, politicians put differences aside and work together. “That sense of possibility and prospect has a lot to do with what this country needs.”


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