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Category: Politics

Battle Looms for Electoral Votes in the Wide-Open Spaces

| September 4, 2008

Mancos, Colorado: While engulfed in gusts of doubt and controversy—and as anticipation intensifies about her prime time speech at the Republican convention tonight (will she address the thorniest of the issues?)—Sarah Palin is not shy of supporters. On Day 2, Laura Bush, George Bush and Joe Leiberman took up her defense, as did Fred Thomspon, the most quotable:

Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governedrather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit.

Among the first post-convention stops on the McCain/Palin campaign trail will be Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Saturday—not coincidentally home to evangelical America and headquarters of Focus on the Family and James Dobson, who has given his support following revelations of her teenage daughter’s pregnancy.

But the move west has more significance than mobilizing support from the newly engaged religious right. Some observers believe that the center of political gravity has shifted: that despite what they say about Ohio and the South, whoever wins the West will win this presidential election.

It was revelatory, experiencing the calamitous debut of Palin from the vantage point of a little southwest Colorado town. Mancos, population under 2000, is just an hour’s flight from Denver, over the mountain from Telluride, the infamous watering hole of the wealthy and well connected. Mancos, by contrast, welcomed five thousand or so bikers for their annual Labor Day weekend rally.

Some Mancos residents were still baffled by the choice. I asked Kit, a photographer, what she thought of Sarah Palin. “Not much,” she answered. Tammy Graham, who does mediation in Mancos, spoke forcefully about the “irresponsibility” of the decision. She wondered about the “desperation” in choosing someone so untested in such dangerous times.

All wide-open spaces and ranchland, Mancos is home to the Navahos and Utes, and is only 40 miles away from what is known as the Four Corners. That’s the point where one could, if one enjoyed contortionism, simultaneously be in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. It’s the only place four U.S. states reside so contiguously. Something else the states have in common, other than their borders, is their importance to Barack Obama and John McCain this November 4th.

What makes Colorado, population 5 million, and the other western states so appealing to both candidates is the huge cache of Independent voters: a full third of the voters in Colorado are up for grabs. These are growing, changing states, with an influx of retirees and “better life” seekers. Additionally, Hispanics now account for about 20 percent of the population in Colorado, 25 percent in Nevada and a whopping 45 percent in New Mexico.

The Obama/Biden team has been well aware of this opportunity as well. It’s the reason their convention was in Denver—in a state that elected a Democratic governor after years of Republicans—and they are also looking to Nevada and New Mexico for wins. The total electoral gain from all three is 19, a near replacement for Ohio’s 20.  If Obama is able to “flip” these three states, according to Whistling Past Dixie author Thomas Schaller, that would “signal the arrival of a new, winning electoral map for the Democrats.”

But the West is a true battleground. According to Rassmussen Reports, Colorado has moved from a “leaning towards Democratic” state to a toss-up. Even though the Democratic convention was just held in the state, RealClearPolitics has Obama up just .4 percent. Nevada is also a toss-up.

Over the next two months, if you see both teams hitching up their wagons and heading west, you know why: there’s gold in those hills.

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