The Democrats' Real Opportunity in the West

Demographics and Howard Dean's gamble give the Dems a real shot in the West.

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DENVER—We're here in Colorado because Howard Dean chose to stage his convention in a Western city to expand the electoral map, by sending a signal to the region's voters that Democrats want their support.

Will it work?

Dean's lasting legacy as Democratic chairman will surely be his "50-state strategy"—a once-controversial tactic of spending money to put Democratic boots on the ground all across the country, even in red states like Indiana, North Carolina, or Alaska, so that the party could capitalize on unforeseen opportunities.

The Obama team seems to share his thinking. Obama stole a march on Hillary Clinton by winning delegates in virtually uncontested caucus states like Idaho and Colorado, while her campaign focused on titans like Ohio.

And now, as they face John McCain in the general election, the Obama campaign seems intent on growing the number of battleground states.

"Where I think Kerry actually competed in 16 states...their intent is to expand that to 28 or 30," says Democratic pollster Ed Reilly at a forum presented by National Journal here this morning.

With superior financial resources, Reilly says, the Democrats can threaten McCain on Republican turf. Even if they don't end up winning Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Alaska, and other red states, the Democrats may make McCain expend valuable time and money this fall, securing his geographic base.

We heard this before, in 2004. And in the end John Kerry surrendered in states like Colorado and Arizona, and President Bush was able to concentrate on make-or-break prizes like Florida and Ohio.

But this year, there's a good chance that Obama may surprise McCain out West, and some top political analysts are demonstrating why.

At the Brookings Institution, researchers Ruy Teixeira and Bill Frey show how demographic changes in the Western states—an influx of Latinos, Californians and highly-educated voters—have changed the complexion of places like Nevada and Colorado.

At National Journal, Ron Brownstein analyzes Sen. Ken Salazar's victorious 2004 strategy in Colorado. Salazar carried the inner suburbs around Denver, took a better chunk of the Republican exurbs than Democrats usually do, and minimized the Republican margin of victory in rural counties, providing a possible game plan for Obama.

The inimitable Mark Gersh of the National Committee for an Effective Congress has joined with Anthony Salvanto of CBS to analyze recent Democratic gains in Colorado. And over at RCP, Jay Cost offers still another way of assessing Obama's chances.

The overall verdict: the Democratic opportunity out West is real. This time, it might actually happen.