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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The Rocky Mountain West is receiving extra attention this presidential campaign. Democrats see a chance to win in traditionally Republican states. Five years ago, all the governors in the region were Republican. Now most of them are Democrats. The Democratic Party hopes holding its national convention in Denver will help push the region toward Barack Obama. But as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, that won't be easy.

JEFF BRADY: This is about more than a politician wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans, though that's part of it. The Democrats winning in the interior West also sound different. Here's Montana governor Brian Schweitzer talking to a BBC reporter in June.

Governor BRIAN SCHWEITZER (Democrat, Montana): Sure, I like to pack a gun. Almost everybody I know has a few. If people ask us how many, we say, well, it's none of your damn business. And gun control in Montana is hitting what you're shooting at.

BRADY: Schweitzer seems to delight in shocking people more than the rest of his political colleagues in the region, but Colorado College political science Professor Bob Loevy says nearly all successful Democrats here have a few things in common.

Professor ROBERT LOEVY (Colorado College): They're not left wing liberals. They tend to be business oriented. In many ways they resemble moderate Republicans.

BRADY: Loevy says it's difficult for Barack Obama to squeeze into this more conservative Democratic mold. He says the candidate could learn a few lessons from successful Democrats like Colorado's junior senator.

Prof. LOEVY: If a Democrat was ever a study in moderation, I would say it's Ken Salazar.

BRADY: Coloradans elected Salazar to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Earlier this month, he was addressing a standing-room only crowd in Buena Vista, Colorado. Salazar was wearing boots, jeans and his trademark cowboy hat.

Senator KEN SALAZAR (Democrat, Colorado): ...and being a farmer and a rancher for more than half of my life. In fact, a large part of my life I've been working with water and working with the soil.

BRADY: Salazar begins nearly all his public appearances by connecting with locals, essentially saying I'm one of you. He suggests Obama could make a similar connection by talking about issues that matter here.

Senator SALAZAR: One of the ways for people to win the West, and one of the ways for Senator Obama to win the West, frankly, is to understand that we have a important priority that we put on our land and our water and our wild places here in this state.

BRADY: Obama might also take a few cues from Wyoming's Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal. In his state, Republicans outnumbered Democrats two to one, yet Freudenthal beat his opponent by a 40 percent margin.

(Soundbite of cow mooing)

BRADY: The livestock show at the Laramie County Fair in Cheyenne is a good place to find out Freudenthal's secret for success. Jim Taylor is a Republican who voted for the governor.

Mr. JIM TAYLOR: I really like him because of his views on taking care of the military within the state. He or one of his head representatives was at every deployment.

BRADY: A few lawn chairs down in the audience is Bobbie Frank. She's also a Republican and says for Democrats here it all comes back to where the candidate falls on the political scale.

Ms. BOBBIE FRANK: I think they need to be a whole lot more moderate in my opinion on environmental issues, a lot more respectful of state's rights. Those kind of issues.

BRADY: There has been some evidence Obama is trying to position himself closer to the center, says political science Professor Bob Loevy.

Prof. LOEVY: We saw a little bit of that movement on the issue of offshore oil drilling.

BRADY: Obama recently appeared to soften his opposition to drilling in some limited cases. But Loevy says what could help Obama most is that Colorado has always tended to vote more Democratic when there's been a Republican administration in office for eight years. Given that, Obama should be well ahead in polls here already. Instead, every poll taken in Colorado has shown the race is a toss-up.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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