NPR logo Democrats Seek a Rocky Mountain High

Democrats Seek a Rocky Mountain High

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The Democrats were shut out in the Rocky Mountain states during the 2004 presidential election. hide caption

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The Georgia Republican congressman died of lung cancer on Tuesday. hide caption

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George Romney's Mormon faith did not play a major role in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. hide caption

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Sixty-three years ago today, Wendell Willkie, the 1940 GOP nominee for president, says he will try again. hide caption

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The Democrats have picked Denver for their 2008 national convention. They've also added Nevada to the schedule of early presidential-nominating contests, squeezing it in just after Iowa and just before New Hampshire. And guess where the first '08 candidate forum will be held? In Carson City, Nev., next Wednesday (Feb. 21). You know what? I betcha the Democrats are trying to tell us something.

Actually, voters in parts of the Rocky Mountain West have been telling us something for the past couple of election cycles, sending more and more Democrats into office. In 2004, voters ended 16 years of Republican rule in Montana by electing a Democrat, Brian Schweitzer, as governor. In Colorado that same year, voters replaced a retiring GOP senator and congressman with the brothers Salazar (Ken and John, respectively). The trend continued in 2006, with Democratic gains that included a House seat and the governorship in Colorado, and a Senate seat in Montana.

That's all well and good. But is it a logical leap to say that the region is up for grabs in next year's battle for the White House? I'm not sure. Democrats will say, with some justification, that Western voters – pro-life, pro-gun Western voters – are looking beyond party affiliations and instead are seeking common-sense solutions. Neither then-Vice President Al Gore (who carried only New Mexico in his 2000 bid) nor Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (who was shut out four years later) gave these voters much to vote for. The same may be the case with the leading Democrats for 2008 – Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Do they speak Rocky Mountain? John Edwards has drifted far to the left of the Edwards we saw in 2004. It remains to be seen if Barack Obama can play in the region. And Hillary Clinton is, well, Hillary Clinton.

That's the argument, some say, for the candidacy of Bill Richardson, the two-term New Mexico governor, who has established an exploratory committee for '08. Richardson is pro-choice, to be sure, but as a westerner and a Hispanic, he speaks the language of the West. And as a former congressman and U.N. ambassador, he comes equipped with foreign-policy experience. But can Richardson raise enough money to be competitive? And can he distract the media from their Hillary/Obama fixation long enough to get noticed?

That's the problem for much of the Democratic field, though with 330 some-odd days until the Iowa caucuses, there should be enough time for another candidate or two to break out of the pack. With the East and Left coasts overwhelmingly Democratic and the South solidly Republican, the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain West appear to be the battlefields in the next battle for the White House.

The eight states in the Rocky Mountain West (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT and WY) account for a total of just 44 electoral votes. Assuming the war remains the leading issue for '08, the Republicans might be hard-pressed to hold onto the presidency in any event. But do the Rocky Mountain states offer the Dems any hope? History says maybe not. Here's a look at how all eight have voted for president in the 10 elections since the Lyndon Johnson Democratic landslide of 1964:

Arizona: 9 Republican ('68, '72, '76, '80, '84, '88, '92, '00, '04); 1 Democratic ('96)

Colorado: 9 Republican ('68, '72, '76, '80, '84, '88, '96, '00, '04); 1 Democratic ('92)

Idaho: 10 Republican

Montana: 9 Republican ('68, '72, '76, '80, '84, '88, '96, '00, '04); 1 Democratic ('92)

Nevada: 8 Republican ('68, '72, '76, '80, '84, '88, '00, '04); 2 Democratic ('92, '96)

New Mexico: 7 Republican ('68, '72, '76, '80, '84, '88, '04); 3 Democratic ('92, '96, '00)

Utah: 10 Republican

Wyoming: 10 Republican

Meanwhile, the story in Washington this week is the House debate on the Democratic-written non-binding resolution that expresses disapproval of President Bush's plan to send another 21,000-plus troops to Iraq. Which leads to the first of the questions:

Q: Thank you for running a tally of how the Democrats in the Senate voted back in 2002 on the decision to go to war in Iraq [see Feb. 8 column]. Can you give us a similar listing of the vote in the House? – Kathy Price, Silver Spring, Md.

A: On Oct. 10, 2002, the House voted 296-133 to give President Bush the authority to use military force in Iraq. Of the 207 Democrats who voted that day, 126 voted no, while 81 – including then-Minority Leader Richard Gephardt – voted yes. Fifty-seven of the 81 yes-voting Dems remain in the House today. They are:

Ackerman (NY), Andrews (NJ), Berkley (NV), Berman (CA), Berry (AR), Bishop (GA), Boswell (IA), Boucher (VA), Boyd (FL), Cramer (AL), Crowley (NY), Dicks (WA), Edwards (TX), Engel (NY), Etheridge (NC), Gordon (TN), Green (TX), Hall (now R-TX), Harman (CA), Hill (IN), Holden (PA), Hoyer (MD), Israel (NY), Jefferson (LA), Kanjorski (PA), Kennedy (RI), Kind (WI), Lampson (TX), Lantos (CA), Lowey (NY), Lynch (MA), Maloney (NY), Markey (MA), Matheson (UT), McCarthy (NY), McIntyre (NC), McNulty (NY), Meehan (MA), Moore (KS), Murtha (PA), Pascrell (NJ), Peterson (MN), Pomeroy (ND), Ross (AR), Rothman (NJ), Schiff (CA), Sherman (CA), Skelton (MO), Smith (WA), Spratt (SC), Tanner (TN), Tauscher (CA), Taylor (MS), Waxman (CA), Weiner (NY), Wexler (FL), Wynn (MD).

Republicans voted 215-6 in favor of the war. One dissenting Republican remains in the House today: Ron Paul of Texas.

Q: Besides Mitt Romney and his father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, how many Mormons have run for president? – Fred Warner, Richmond, Va.

A: Since George Romney's failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, two other Mormons have run: Orrin Hatch, the GOP senator from Utah, who sought his party's nod in 2000, and Mo Udall, the late Arizona congressman, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 1976.

Q: Iowa and New Hampshire are holding their presidential contests earlier than ever. Can you compare the dates of these primaries and caucuses to earlier cycles? – Diane Siegel, Washington, D.C.

A: Here a list of nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire for 2008 and earlier presidential years:

2008: Iowa: Jan. 14; NH: Jan. 22

2004: Iowa: Jan. 19; NH: Jan. 27

2000: Iowa: Jan. 24; NH: Feb. 1

1996: Iowa: Feb. 12; NH: Feb. 20

1992: Iowa: Feb. 10; NH: Feb. 18

1988: Iowa: Feb. 8; NH: Feb. 16

1984: Iowa: Feb. 20; NH: Feb. 28

1980: Iowa: Jan. 21; NH: Feb. 26

1976: Iowa: Jan. 19; NH: Feb. 24

1972: Iowa: Jan. 25; NH: March 7

1968: NH: March 12

1964: NH: March 10

1960: NH: March 8

1956: NH: March 13

1952: NH: March 11

Q: When was the last time Indiana Democratic candidates unseated three Republican congressmen? — Harriet Fisher, Indianapolis, Ind.

A: Why, in 2006, of course! Unless you meant prior to 2006, a year in which GOP incumbents Chris Chocola, John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel all went down to defeat. The last time Hoosier Republicans had such a bad night was in 1974, when five were unseated: Reps. Earl Landgrebe (who lost to Floyd Fithian), William Bray (to David Evans), Roger Zion (to Philip Hayes), David Dennis (to Phil Sharp), and William Hudnut (to Andy Jacobs).

JUST IN THE NICOTINE: Last week's column had a little feature on presidents who were smokers; this followed the news item that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is trying to quit cigarettes. In the column, I wrote that Ronald Reagan was reputed to be a several packs-a-day smoker before running for president. Not so, says Lou Cannon, the much-missed Washington Post columnist who wrote the definitive biography President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. "In fact," Lou writes, "he was not a cigarette smoker at all. He smoked a pipe when he was on WHO Radio in the 1930s, because a popular program in which he appeared with H.R. Gross (later a GOP member of the House) was sponsored by Kentucky Club. But Reagan, whose father died relatively young from a heart attack after a life of heavy drinking and smoking, stopped smoking a pipe when he went to Hollywood. I know of no one (and I interviewed hundreds of people from the period) who said that Reagan was a smoker after that."

Lou adds, "When he did ads for Chesterfields, the cigarette was – a bit crudely – painted on his lips. Overall, his health habits were terrific, which is why he lived so long (but, sadly, for many years with Alzheimer's)."

HAIL AND FAREWELL: Heartfelt best wishes go out to Ed Greelegs, the chief of staff to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is leaving Capitol Hill after 30 years for the private sector. Ed is one of the few people I know who will talk about the Yankees and not hate me – he is a fellow fanatic – and he can talk campaign trivia and history as well as anyone I know. A genuine good guy whose knowledge and sense of humor are two things you cannot have too much of on Capitol Hill.

MORE PODCAST FAN MAIL: This one is from Jeff Kohlman of Austin, Texas, who writes, "I discovered 'It's All Politics' a while back while searching for podcasts to help me while away the boring hours on mass transit, and I have to say that I've devoured them. I wish it ran more often, and I wish it were longer. I really enjoyed the discussion this week on the explosion of 'identity candidates' who will (presumably) be part of the Democratic field. I hadn't really parsed the pool in that way, but it's certainly accurate. I also thought the most cogent analysis of this week's program was about Rudy Giuliani's chances." Check out the new edition every Thursday afternoon at www.npr.org.

Valentine's Day buttons

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY: Thanks to Tim Valentine, a North Carolina Democrat who served in the House from 1983-92, and John Valentine, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor of Iowa in 1940, for helping us celebrate!

Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state.

This Day in Campaign History: Wendell Willkie, the unsuccessful 1940 Republican presidential nominee, announces he will make another bid for the White House (Feb. 14, 1944). Willkie will be out of the race in mid-April following a last-place finish in the Wisconsin primary; he dies in October at the age of 52.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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