Ten years ago, Karl Rove and George W. Bush put together a blueprint for a winning path for the Republican Party for years to come. Their plan was to reach out to “compassionate conservatives,” Hispanics, and Independents and bring them in under their “big tent.” But, the conservative, dominant wing of the Republican Party alienated many of these voters in the West over the past decade as evidenced by looking at the electoral gains Democrats have made in the Intermountain West.
In 2000, Democrats controlled zero Governorships, 3 Senate seats and 6 Congressional seats. After the 2008 election, Democrats held 5 Governor’s seats, 7 Senate seats, and 17 House seats. And, President Obama had won by large margins in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico after John Kerry failed to take a single state out of eight in the “New West” four years earlier.
This year, we won’t see the gains that Democrats have made in the past two cycles, but what’s interesting is that our long term goals are still very much on track. Not that long ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that the West would be the frontline for crucial races up and down the ticket that both parties are battling over today. That the West is now a battleground is a demonstration of the influential role this region plays and will continue to play in American politics.
To fully understand the electoral changes that have taken place in the West, it is critical to understand the western mindset and our issue priorities, the changing demographics of the region, the electoral impact of early vote and ballot measures, and the rising influence of Independent voters.
One election cycle does not make a trend. In other words, while the 2010 election is very volatile and it is next to impossible to predict outcomes in a host of races throughout the region, it is crucial to understand long-term trends and opportunities for this region. Party registration shifts, Hispanic turnout compared to previous off-year elections, early voting patterns, ballot measure results, and the ticket splitting that is a western tradition will determine how the West is really won.