Correction to This Article
A Jan. January 13 article on the decision by the Democratic Party to hold its national convention in Denver misstated the size of Colorado┬┐s congressional delegation. It is nine lawmakers, not seven.

West Is Going in Democrats' Direction

By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007

When the major political parties gathered for their national conventions in 2004, Colorado had a Republican governor, a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican edge of 5 to 2 in the state's congressional delegation. Today, Colorado's governor is a Democrat. The Democrats control both houses of the legislature. Four of the seven congressional seats are held by Democrats.

That transformation, mirrored in varying degrees across the Rocky Mountain West, is a key reason the Democratic Party decided this week to hold its 2008 nomination convention in Denver, the financial, governmental and transit hub of the mountain states. As party leaders ponder how they can regain the White House in the next election, the region looks more and more essential to an electoral-vote victory.

"I have long believed that the essence of a Democratic victory goes through the West," Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said Thursday, when he announced that Denver had edged out New York to be the convention city.

"If we are going to have a national party, we are going to have to have Westerners vote Democratic again on a reliable basis."

In fact, the Mountain West has been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections. George W. Bush dominated the region in both of his campaigns; he won seven of eight mountain states (all but New Mexico) in 2000, and all eight in 2004.

Below the presidential level, however, the Bush years have been good years for Western Democrats.

In 2000, all eight mountain states had Republican governors; now five governors are Democrats.

Republicans still win most Senate and House races in the West. But Democrats have gained five new House seats in the region in the past six years. Democrat Ken Salazar won a previously Republican U.S. Senate seat in Colorado in 2004, and Democrat Jon Tester unseated Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana in 2006.

Although the West is famous for offering "land, lots of land, 'neath the starry skies above," the population is heavily urbanized. Most people -- and, thus, most of the congressional seats -- are clustered in and around cities, such as Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Boise. Those urban centers, their populations swelling with Hispanics, have become deep wells of Democratic votes.

This change has not been lost on national political planners. In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrats devoted considerable sums and significant amounts of Sen. John F. Kerry's time to the West, focusing on Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

"There was nothing wrong with that strategy," said Denver-based Democratic consultant Terry Snyder. "The votes could be there, for the right candidate. But a liberal senator from Massachusetts turned out to be the wrong guy to make the sale in the West."

Some Democratic strategists, and such party-loyalist Internet sites as the Emerging Democratic Majority WebLog, have been urging party leaders to look west in 2008. In his book "Whistling Past Dixie," Thomas F. Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, argues that Democrats should effectively concede the "Solid South" to Republicans and focus on electoral votes in the Midwest and Mountain West.

Candidates are paying attention. Indeed, a win-the-West strategy is a key element in the thinking of a likely Democratic presidential contender in 2008, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Democrats' choice of Denver for the convention, to be held Aug. 25-28, 2008, in a downtown basketball and hockey arena, had become almost a foregone conclusion in recent months.

In the initial jostling to be host city, New Orleans seemed to be the front-runner, because a convention there would remind voters of the Bush administration's much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans officials dropped out of the competition last summer -- the city said it couldn't afford to host a convention in the midst of rebuilding -- New York and Denver became the finalists.

But New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) showed considerable reluctance about hosting the event. He told Democrats his city would not come up with the money required to put on the convention. By the time Dean announced his choice Thursday, Denver was the only candidate still standing.

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