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Democrats get an election night whipping

Democrats, looking at last week's election results, feel like that dog in the lost and found column: "Lost - Three legged dog, one eye missing. Castrated. Right ear torn off. Answers to the name Lucky."

    Wow - what an election night whipping. Neither Democrats nor Republicans saw that one coming. However, in the month preceding the election a few street-savvy politicians on both sides understood two things: first, Democrats were unable to use the political advantage of the current economic hard times because the nation was fixated instead on the horrible events of September 11th, the incessant war talk toward Iraq and the sniper killings on the east coast. Second, Democrats were rendered incoherent by their own political timidity. From time-to-time both parties learn, the hard way, that content-free politics assure defeat.

    Like that beat up dog named Lucky, however, election night offered some good news for Democrats. Despite the fact that Republicans won most of the close elections, Democrats received virtually half of all the national votes cast, further evidence of the 50/50 nature of America's politics.

    Although the national media is unlikely to notice it, here in the Rocky Mountain West Democrats made important election night gains. America's media, east coast centric as it is, pays slight, if any, attention to events here in the interior West. Despite the fact that the Rocky Mountain region is the most exciting of American places, despite our soaring population growth, and despite the important economic transitions in the Rockies, the media still thinks of us as foreign. Much of the eastern media see the Rocky Mountain West as the mapmakers in Christopher Columbus' day must have considered the far away, feared oceans. Those waters over the horizon were assumed back then to be the haunts of two-headed dragons and sea monsters. We westerners must seem too distant to care about and too alien to explore.

    A cursory look at the region's election results would inform the media that western Democrats have made important gains. For the first time in many years, three new Democratic governors have been elected in this region: Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. Prior to Tuesday there wasn't one single Democratic governor in the Rockies. When one considers those surprising gains along with the Democrat's solid hold on the governor's offices in each of the far west coastal states of Washington, California and Oregon, the significance of the Democratic western surge becomes clear.

    What should also be understood is that each of the Democratic candidates who prevailed in this region ran toward, not away from, strong environmental policy and, very importantly, they talked openly about the obvious and inevitable economic transitions at work in the region. The congressmen Udalls of Colorado and New Mexico, governors-elect Richardson, Napolitano and Freudenthal, Senator Baucus, congressmen Matheson, Pastor, and Grijalva all conducted campaigns in which they claimed the environmental mantle and also challenged their constituents to consider, accept and nurture the inevitable transitions which are so obviously empowering the region's new economies. Yes, the West is still represented by many elected Republicans, but their hold has been substantially loosened.

    In thinking about the Democratic losses on the national level, taken together with the gains here in the West, I'm reminded of the words of a Civil War captain who, along with the men under his command, was blown high into the air by a nearby explosion. On the way up he yelled, "Boys, when we hit the ground, gather round for further instructions."

 

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Author info

Rep. Pat Williams Rep. Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at the University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and is Northern Director of Western Progress.

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