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Elephant-hunting in the West 

Politicos set their crosshairs on a presidential primary

click to enlarge George W. Bush won all eight states in the Rocky - Mountain West in 2004. But voters in those states didnt - always see red, and four of them currently have - Democratic governors.
  • George W. Bush won all eight states in the Rocky Mountain West in 2004. But voters in those states didnt always see red, and four of them currently have Democratic governors.

It is, promoters say, a chance to give a voice to the Rocky Mountain West.

It is also, undoubtedly, an opportunity that Democrats find tantalizing.

In the 2008 presidential race, as many as nine Democrats and seven or eight Republicans are expected to run. An early primary in one of eight Western states could force the candidates to focus on issues specific to this region including water, ranching, farming, open space and the environment rather than focusing squarely on drumming up support in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Strategists have been working on the idea of establishing an early presidential primary in the West for 20 years. The momentum has further cranked up since the 2004 election, says Michael Stratton, a longtime Colorado Democratic consultant.

Speaking during the recent State of the Rockies conference at Colorado College, Stratton noted that had Democrat John Kerry won any one of the four most closely contested states two years ago including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada he would be president today.

Instead, all eight states in the Rocky Mountain region (which also includes Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah)went to George W. Bush.

Citing a handout he had distributed to the crowd, Stratton noted that in 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in four of those eight states; the strong blue showing has steadily dissipated since then. In 1996, Clinton won three states; in 2000, Democrat Al Gore won only New Mexico.

If he were to bet on one Western state pulling off an early primary in 2008, Stratton would choose Nevada. He says because its media market and population are small, powerhouses Iowa and New Hampshire will perceive it as less a threat than other Western states. Stratton added that those states believe it is their God-given right to set the early presidential campaign stage, though many believe they do not adequately reflect the diversity of the population of the United States.

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